NEW DELHI: Connaught Place, located in the heart of Delhi, is not just a shopping spot, it is a piece of heritage that epitomises the national capital. Built in the 1930s, the rings of white, collonaded Georgian-style buildings draw thousands of visitors every day, not just from Delhi, but foreign tourists as well.
Ever since the North civic body successfully implemented a no-vehicle zone on Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) has been thinking of reviving its 2017 plan of pedestrianising the inner circle of Connaught Place.
The Connaught Place market was one of the locations initially chosen for pedestrianising in the national capital, along with Chandni Chowk. In January 2017, when Venkaiah Naidu was the urban development minister, he conceptualised the idea, which was taken forward by the NDMC.
However, it couldn’t be implemented owing to strong opposition from the traders’ association, and things have not moved forward for two years after talks between the civic body and the traders failed to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. The NDMC has once again taken a decision to revive the plan, and it will be implemented on June 27 and 28 and July 6 and 7 on a trial basis for a certain number of hours.
At present, NDMC has earmarked parking spaces near Hanuman Mandir and on Baba Kharag Singh Marg, and has suggested offering rickshaw rides up to the inner circle of Connaught Place.
The NDMC’s decision evoked mixed reactions from those visiting the market. While some of the shoppers appreciated the idea, others pointed out that the suggested parking lots would be a bit far from the market.“I don't mind walking a few steps more if I find the market less crowded and more organised because weekends, national holidays and festive occasions are a mess here. But then there should be a valet parking facility if we cannot park cars here,” said Pratima Agnes.
One shopper pointed out that the market had a charm of its own and if anything new was implemented, it might not retain its current appeal.“Apart from the change of brands, I have been seeing the market the same for the past 30 years. Parking at times becomes difficult, but that is manageable. I am comfortable with the existing plan. Rather, making it pedestrian-only means parking cars far away and taking only the outer circle. I enjoy taking a round of the inner circle,” said Riti Panda.
The shop owners in Connaught Place all had one thing to say—that the plan would hurt their sales. Most of the shop owners were of the opinion that their business would suffer if cars were not allowed to be parked near the market.“We have repeatedly raised our concerns, but NDMC does not care. It is no less than a political move, else why would anyone want to change this market? Has there been any problem faced by customers or traders? I don’t think so. Then what is the purpose? Pedestrianising will deeply impact our trade,” said Gauhar Siraj of Lion Heart.
“How will a lady who has purchased jewellery worth lakhs of rupees carry it in her hands and take a rickshaw to reach the parking lot? This plan of NDMC is extremely poorly planned, unsynchronised and would negatively affect both traders and visitors,” Siraj added.
The traders alleged that the NDMC, which is responsible for cleaning the market, removing inappropriate graffiti, and checking encroachment, had always turned a deaf ear whenever the businessmen had pointed out these issues, and none of them had been addressed by it.“NDMC’s idea of blocking the road for vehicles in the inner circle will create more chaos in the outer circle. It will get choked, and we saw a trailer of that during the International Day of Yoga. The civic body has not planned any alternative if the inner circle is blocked. Instead, they want to make it no-vehicle. By doing so, Connaught Place will turn into another Lajpat Nagar or Karol Bagh market. This market is different,” stated Lovelesh Khanna of Khanna Fabrics.
Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders Association, said that the civic body had only spoken once to him before taking the decision. “The association has demanded a meeting. We have also written a letter to NDMC clearly stating our issues. The Karol Bagh traders have already started facing problems. People who travel by luxury cars won’t take public transport to come here, and they are our main customers. The NDMC needs to think rationally,” he added.
An NDMC official said that a final meeting with the traders was yet to take place and no decision would be taken without taking their concerns into account. “This issue has been pending for the past two years. There is nothing new to it. As of now the trial days have been decided and whether to implement it nor not will be decided after studying the success of the trial,” the official said.