Delhi’s commercial hub Nehru Place caught in crosscurrents
NEW DELHI: Nehru Place was planned as a space for work, shopping and recreational activity. For long, however, the market was purely a commercial hub for computers and accessories. Of late, with new restaurants opening, the district centre is finally assuming the contours of the originally conceived multi-functional public space. That is the good news. The bad news is that nobody among the current business owners at Nehru Place thinks the market is ready for its new avatar.
Nehru Place was developed by the Delhi Development Authority in the late 1970s, and its age is showing: broken pavements, wires dangling dangerously above the avenues, inadequate toilet facilities, poor illumination after sunset and massive encroachment by hawkers. The existing amenities simply cannot meet the needs of the three lakh people who visit the place every day. With the Janakpuri-Botanical Garden Metro line opening soon, the burden on Nehru Place could become unsurmountable.
Amid this chaos, a blame game goes on. The traders’ association says that all requests for basic civic services and a check on encroachment have fallen on deaf ears. DDA officials counter, “Shop owners and building owners are responsible for the maintenance of the individual buildings.”
DDA transferred the maintenance of the district centre to the South Delhi Municipal Corporation in 2014, though the civic body is responsible only for upkeep of the common areas. DDA officials say that the original allottees were supposed to form an association to undertake repairs and maintain the market, financed partly by a portion of the ground rent collected by DDA. But the association was never formed.
“Dustbins are overflowing with waste, trash is piling up in the corridors, and the toilets are extremely dirty,” complained JK Gupta, chairman of the Nehru Place Welfare Association. “There are just four-five public toilets here.” For their part, South Corporation officials said 20 sanitation workers are deployed daily at the market.
Almost every available space in the piazza has been taken over by hawkers selling everything from cellphone covers to books and shoes. “The illegal vendors return within days of their removal by corporation officials,” resented Rajinder Gupta, vice-president of the traders’ association.
Not surprisingly, this has affected business. “We have lost more than 50% business to these hawkers,” said Naushad, who runs a mobiles accessories store. “They sell inferior quality goods but at much lower prices. Why would people come to our stores?” He is contemplating shutting shop because business returns are not commensurate with the rent he pays.
The market was declared a no-hawking zone in 2000, but the decision was challenged in the Delhi high court by some vendors. While transferring the market, DDA gave South Corporation a list of 114 vendors authorised by the court to hawk their wares at Nehru Place. “We can’t remove them, but we routinely swoop down on illegal hawkers,” claimed Mona Sreenivas, deputy commissioner (central zone), South Corporation. “It is Delhi Police’s responsibility to keep a check on unauthorised vendors.”
There is still hope for the market because urban planners feel a rejuvenated Nehru Place could make public spaces accessible to the people living in colonies in the vicinity of the market. Arunava Dasgupta, head of urban design at School of Planning and Architecture, which has carried out two studies for internal use, said, “There is a possibility of greater engagement with the public by providing community-oriented services. With slight design changes, the whole area, the market included, can be revived as a social-cultural hub. The district park nearby could be used for art and cultural activities too.” Nehru Place awaits that reincarnation.