It’s eight years since the Delhi High Court ordered that markets selling hazardous and bulky goods in the Walled City should be shifted to the citys outskirts.
Delhis Masterplan for 2021,and every subsequent development plan,also stressed on the need to shift the wholesale markets out of Old Delhi.
But Delhis civic agencies have taken little action,if any.
The Walled City houses some of Asias largest wholesale markets,and even civic officials accept they are a major cause of congestion and traffic chaos in the already clogged-up area. To make it worse,traders and transporters use these roads as thoroughfares,leading to movement of heavy vehicles.
The High Court order to move out the chemical market came on September 14,1997 after a devastating fire that started from an unauthorised chemical store at Lal Kuan market on May 31,1997,left 57 dead and 41 others injured. Ordering that all chemical traders should shift to the new Holambi-Kalan market in North Delhi,the court imposed the cost on the traders,with a direction that their shops in Old Delhi should be sealed till they make the payment.
On ground,nothing has changed. Like earlier,Old Delhi remains home to over a thousand traders. Like earlier,the chemical market at Lal Kuan,the steel and transport market at Hauz Kazi,foodgrain market at Naya Bazaar and the spice market at Tilak Bazaar continue,triggering chaos and clutter along the way.
What MCD Says
So what stops the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) from shifting these traders? MCD Deputy Commissioner (City Zone) Vijay Singh says there are multiple reasons. He says the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has delayed providing alternative space and other required services,and also points at reluctance among the traders as well as leniency on part of the MCD.
Following the High Court order,Singh says the MCD had conducted a survey to check the number of traders who needed to be provided with plots,and a list of over 500 eligible shopowners was forwarded to DDA,according to Singh. While substitute land was allotted at Bawana and Holambi Kalan,near Narela,the wholesale markets still operate from Old Delhi,mainly from Chandni Chowk.
Municipal officials claim the DDA delayed development of the proposed Integrated Freight Complexes (IFCs) at the site where the market is to be shifted.
Singh says some transport godowns have been shifted to Sanjay Gandhi Nagar,with plots allotted to owners,but the remaining godown owners are not too keen on shifting to the IFCs.
Transporters,he says,contend that they will stay put till the markets are shifted out completely. Issues like plot size for shops are also not resolved yet for chemical traders, he says.
The Naya Bazaar wholesale market for foodgrain on GB Road requires immediate attention,according to Singh. Shifting this market alone will lead to de-congestion of Old Delhi to a large extent there is a constant movement of heavy vehicles and trucks to ferry goods that leads to traffic chaos.
To address the problem,Singh says the municipality has decided to let wholesale offices and retail showrooms stay but the godowns will be shifted soon.
Delhis Chief Fire Officer R C Sharma says: No one knows how many different kinds of chemicals are stored here,let alone what might happen if a major fire breaks out in a storeroom. Besides residents,an estimated 20,000 people work in this small area and it is impossible for a fire engine to enter here.
The only way you can avert a disaster is to shift this market to an area where it can be properly regulated.
What Traders Say
We are functioning from Chandni Chowk since 1960, Chemical Merchants Association president Sushil Goel says,but not all were assigned plots in the draw of lots held in 2002 for shifting us to Holambi Kalan. The plots in the allotted area are also too small for our needs and the rate is way over the top,he says. No one has approached us to resolve these pending issues.
Some traders also fear loss of business once they move out of Chandni Chowk since the infrastructure is poor,says Udhav Sharda,secretary of the Delhi Electrical Traders Association.
The MCD,meanwhile,has decided to take legal recourse against offenders: fresh notices have been sent to all transporters to get rid of unauthorised parking and restrict loading and off-loading of goods. The MCD has also sent notices to traders asking them to shift their godowns.
What DDA Says
DDA officials say the delay in shifting the markets was mainly due to a lengthy verification procedure to decide eligibility,cost and other issues. As per the High Courts order,traders had to deposit Rs 20,000 against each allotment. Officials say it was verified at the time that only 521 dealers had deposited the requisite amount.
In September 2002,these 521 dealers were allotted sites of 50 square metres each.
In 2008,a draw of lots was held to allot sites to another 102 eligible traders,the officials say,but since many traders were unhappy with the amount to be deposited,it led to further delay.
In an email reply,to Newsline,the DDA says 623 allotments have been made till date,of which 355 traders have been issued possession letters. Call letters for issuing possession letters have been given to 43,and 51 cases were found with deficiencies in documents and papers,according to the email.
The DDA claims the MCD has been requested to check status of remaining unverified cases.
According to DDA officials,all peripheral services like sewage and stormwater drains have been laid at Holambi Kalan and water supply is also available. Internal supply lines,including internal sewerage,have also been laid,they say.