A 1.3-km stretch between the Red Fort and the Fatehpuri Masjid is being turned into a car-free zone, and beautified keeping the Mughal-era architectural style in mind. The mesh of overhead wires has gone underground, fire hydrants are being set up, red sandstone seats being placed, and toilets being built. At least 175 red sandstone planters, along with a row of bollards, will be placed to mimic the Mughal architectural aesthetic, and both sides of the stretch will be lined with 250 Moulsari trees.
LED street lighting is also a part of the plan. The Delhi Jal Board has done rehabilitation work of the ancient sewer line that runs underground. The stretch will be accessible to the differently-abled as well. Non-motorised vehicles such as rickshaws will ply on the stretch, and by November, it will be open to the public, said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday as he inspected the project site, along with Urban Development Minister Satyendar Jain. As of now, beautification of a 400-metre stretch of the 1.3-km is complete, but work by DJB and BSES is being finished.
For how long has the redevelopment project been in the works?
Sixteen years, to be precise. The idea of the ambitious revamp of Chandni Chowk first came up in 2004. In 2008, the then Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, set up the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) but the plan did not take off till 2018 — when Delhi’s Deputy CM Manish Sisodia launched the project. It was a tough project as there are many stakeholders — traders, trader unions, residents, heads of religious structures on the stretch, and the Delhi Urban Arts Commission.
In 2017, veteran architect Pradeep Sachdeva, who specialised in streets, joined the project as chief architect. In August 2019, a 12-metre stretch of the entire 1.3 km was readied as a sample in front of the Central Baptist Church. At the time, Sachdeva told The Indian Express, “What do the Mall Road in Shimla, MG Road in Gangtok or the area near the Golden Temple in Amritsar have in common? They are car-free zones. I think this is the most important aspect of the redevelopment of Chandni Chowk.
While explaining the blueprint, Sachdeva had said that there will be a 5.4-metre-wide footpath, next to it a 5.5-metre-wide carriageway for cycle rickshaws, followed by a 3.5-metre-wide central verge with planters and bollards. Next to this will be the second 5.5-metre-wide carriageway and then a 5.4-metre-wide footpath. He had said the lane meant for rickshaws can also be used for emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire tenders. Sachdeva — who is credited for building Dilli Haat and the Garden of Five Senses — passed away May-end at the age of 63.
The project was supposed to be open to the public by March 2020 but it was delayed due to the lockdown in the wake of Covid-19.
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What are the challenges that the project has faced since 2018?
When the idea that the stretch will be a car-free zone was floated, the main concern of traders was loading and off-loading of goods. This issue was solved and it was decided that the stretch will be a non-motorised zone from 9 am to 9 pm only. Post 9 pm, loading and off-loading of goods in motorised vehicles is allowed.
Another issue that was raised by traders was that if vehicles aren’t allowed, the footfall might suffer, and parking might be an issue. This too was resolved and the North MCD is building a multi-level parking facility at Chandni Chowk’s Gandhi Maidan to accommodate over 2,300 cars. It will have eight floors and three underground levels.
In 2019, another problem emerged when DUAC objected to the placement of the 19 transformers on the central verge as it would ruin the view. Meetings with BSES, SRDC, DUAC and Sachdeva were held to resolve the matter.
What is the story of Chandni Chowk?
Chandni Chowk or ‘Moonlit Square’ was built in the 17th Century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter Jahanara Begum. In front of the Bibi ka Serai in Shahjahanabad was a water tank, surrounded by buildings, and on moonlit nights, the buildings would get illuminated as the moonlight reflected on them from the tank — and so the name Chandni Chowk emerged.
It’s interesting to note that till before 1857, it was always mentioned as a “square,” including in Mirza Sangin Beg’s Sair-ul-Manazil, written in the 1820s, and in Asar-us-Sanadid written by scholar reformist Syed Ahmed Khan in 1847. After the Revolt of 1857, Chandni Chowk finds mention in a map as a “street.”
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