Why ex­perts feel re­vamp will ruin Chandni Chowk’s his­toric fab­ric

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY - [email protected] times­group.com

New Delhi: The re­flec­tion of the moon in the tree-lined canal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Ja­han’s daugh­ter Ja­ha­nara, is be­lieved to have given Chandni Chowk its name. The evoca­tive 17th cen­tury name could, how­ever, puz­zle fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The lat­est rede­vel­op­ment of the area is oblit­er­at­ing all hints of the wa­ter body that ran the length of the busy mar­ket. In its path will be a wide cen­tral verge that will hold util­ity ducts, trans­form­ers, sub-sta­tions, po­lice stands, even toi­let blocks. Not sur­pris­ingly, his­to­ri­ans, con­ser­va­tion­ists and her­itage lovers are up in arms and anx­ious about what this will do to Chandni Chowk’s his­toric fab­ric.

On De­cem­ber 1, bull­doz­ers and ex­ca­va­tors moved in to im­ple­ment the re­design of the es­planade. The plan is to pedes­tri­anise the 1.5-km es­planade from Red Fort to Fateh­puri Masjid and have wide walk­ways of ei­ther side of the cen­tral verge. A dis­mayed Navin Pi­plani, con­ser­va­tion ar­chi­tect and prin­ci­pal direc­tor of In­tach Her­itage Academy, said, “The ex­ist­ing me­dian is be­ing de­stroyed to lay un­der­ground util­ity ca­bles. Archival im­ages of Chandni Chowk show a canal run­ning past where the cen­tral verge cur­rently lies. This is what Chandni Chowk is. It is a cer­e­mo­nial path from Red Fort to Fateh­puri Masjid and should not be al­tered or de­stroyed.’’

Ar­chi­tect Pradeep Sachdeva, the man be­hind the rede­vel­op­ment de­sign, ar­gued that space con­straints ne­ces­si­tated the mov­ing of util­i­ties and toi­lets to the cen­tral verge. “We pre­sented a num­ber of al­ter­na­tives to UTTIPEC. We need to pri­ori­tise to­day’s needs and ➤ Chandni Chowk’s ori­gin dates back to the found­ing of

by Mughal emperor Shah Ja­han in ➤ The mar­ket was de­signed as a square & ac­com­mo­dated ➤ The shops were orig­i­nally placed in a half-moon pat­tern

➤ A canal along the cen­tre of the mar­ket shim­mered in the moon­light, giv­ing Chandni Chowk its name

➤ The Bri­tish filled up the canal, and now ex­perts say the lat­est rede­vel­op­ment with pub­lic util­i­ties shifted to the cen­tral verge will oblit­er­ate all ves­tiges of his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter of Chandni Chowk so the idea is to max­imise pedes­trian ar­eas. The trans­form­ers and toi­let blocks would have blocked en­tries to shops and proved a nui­sance to pedes­tri­ans.” UTTIPEC clears all projects re­lated to trans­porta­tion and trans­port en­gi­neer­ing in the city.

If it is any con­so­la­tion to the his­tor­i­cally in­clined, Sachdeva said the rede­vel­op­ment will pay a trib­ute to the long­gone canal through a sym­bolic pat­tern and land­scap­ing. “By not al­low­ing util­i­ties on the foot­path, the plan de­sign­ers have been able to pro­vide two rows of trees along the length of Chandni Chowk,” he added.

Most her­itage ex­perts agree that this plan is “de­stroy­ing” Chandni Chowk. “Why weren’t her­itage con­ser­va­tion­ists and ex­perts in­volved in plan­ning the re­vamp?” asked his­to­rian So­hail Hashmi. “In­puts from ex­perts were re­quired, not bu­reau­crats and en­gi­neers sit­ting in a closed meet­ing.” Ur­ban plan­ner AGK Me- non added, “The stream pass­ing through Chandni Chowk can­not be recre­ated, but it is our job to pre­serve what is left of the legacy of Chandni Chowk.”

Swapna Lid­dle, Delhi con­venor of IN­TACH, said that rede­vel­op­ment plans needed to bal­ance to­day’s needs while pre­serv­ing yes­ter­day’s sto­ries. “Though the canal ceased to ex­ist af­ter the 1857 upris­ing, it still is in­te­gral to the his­tory of the stretch,” she re­it­er­ated. “Many would want to see the orig­i­nal foot­prints of Chandni Chowk.”

And while Alka Lamba, MLA of Chandni Chowk and direc­tor of Shah­ja­han­abad Rede­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, like Sachdeva, ar­gued that the fo­cus should be on what is more im­por­tance to­day, K T Ravin­dran, ur­ban de­signer and for­mer chair­man of Delhi Ur­ban Arts Com­mis­sion, coun­tered, “When you think of Chandni Chowk, you think of the vis­ual link­age with Red Fort and that should not be al­tered. Trans­form­ers can be mod­ernised into small boxes so they needn’t be vis­ually un­ap­peal­ing. You have to re­spect the past and think of mod­ern in­no­va­tions to meet fu­ture needs.”

The traders lin­ing the av­enue are them­selves in two minds about the changes. San­jay Bhar­gava, pres­i­dent of Chandni Chowk Sarvya­par Man­dal, won­dered at the pru­dence of hav­ing huge power trans­form­ers on the cen­tral verge. “The first rede­vel­op­ment plan had ear­marked a multi-util­ity zone for trans­form­ers and toi­lets on the north­ern car­riage­way. Such a zone has now been moved to the cen­tral verge,” Bhar­gava said. “But which shop owner will want trans­form­ers to be lo­cated in front of their shops? A Delhi Metro re­port had pro­posed mov­ing the trans­form­ers un­der­ground, but ap­par­ently Delhi gov­ern­ment re­jected it be­cause it was too costly.”

han­abadShahja-17th cen­tury CE

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