If you ever find yourself in need of any computer or IT accessory and are in Delhi, the only place recommended would be Nehru Place. Famous for its range of products and the popularity from the days of pirated software floppies, Nehru place has slowly but surely upgraded itself with the evolving IT market and its demands.
Planned as a work and shopping destination in the 70s, it slowly became famous as an IT and peripherals market. With over 100 buildings in the cramped space, it has long ago begun its descent to the current state it presents to visitors, of broken buildings slowly falling apart, crowded walkways, broken pavements and open electric wires like a disaster waiting to happen. Inadequate toilet facilities, bad lighting and abandoned areas becoming a den for homeless or criminals, and in many cases both; it has become a down market dilapidated vision of what it was supposed to be.
Initially undertaken by the Delhi Development Authority, it was transferred to the South Delhi Municipal Corporation in 2014, becoming responsible for the upkeep of the common areas. While the shop alottees were supposed to set up an association for the upkeep of the market, nothing has come of it except the expected blame game from one government agency to the next.
Illegal hawkers have taken up their place in all parts of the piazza, offering an entire variety of goods from cell phones (covers too for those interested) to books. Giving a stiff price competition to the shop owners in the area, they have come to be seen as a part of the overall chaos affecting the market. With one metro station servicing the area and another one expected to be opened for the public with the Janakpuri – Botanical Garden line, the expected expansion has already fuelled more restaurants in the area.
The market has been declared a No Hawking Zone in 2000- a decision challenged in the High Court by some of the vendors. At the same time, a list of over 100 vendors “authorised to hawk their wares” was also given by the DDA to the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the latter has expressed their inability to tackle the problem. Declaring the problem to be in the scope of the Delhi Police, Mona Sreenivas, Deputy Commissioner (Central Zone) claimed they regularly swoop down on the illegal hawkers, but they return within a few days.
Which begs the question, why declare the hawkers illegal in the first place? Nehru Place, synonymous with cheap electronics goods has become a choice location for some of the best economical options in terms of both software and hardware for the local population, thanks to the same hawkers. Slowly transforming itself into a flea market as seen in western countries, it becomes a great place to look for a good deal for the next laptop you might be thinking of buying.
Another facet which no one has been able to satisfy is the direct correlation between the ramshackle state of affairs the market has become and the so called illegal hawkers plying their wares. With years of neglect oozing from every nook and cranny, it hardly makes for a good defence for the administration. Infamous as a haven for drug peddlers and pickpocketing, it has yet to see any good days.
The expansion of the metro connectivity promises to bring more people to this well-known market. But for a city known for mismanagement of its old time markets (Karol Bagh, anyone?), this hardly strikes a savoury note with the consumers of the city despite all the new eateries in the location.
Is it that time yet when the administration starts to take actions keeping in mind the ground reality? In this case, the reality being that the market is famous for its great offers and deals being offered to the public. The hawkers, many of whom earn their sole living for their entire family from the so called illegal trading, have become as much a part of the place as much as the peeling paint of the buildings.
One must also keep in mind the recent tragedy of the National Museum of Natural History. Despite being a monument of importance, the fire which broke out nearly laid the entire building to waste, with reports of non-functioning fire fighting equipment. How long does one wait for such a tragedy to engulf this destination?
While some may argue that for the sake of environment and safety, or for the sake of fair play for the shopkeepers the illegal hawkers should be moved. For the sake of keeping the area clean and free of the more unsavoury elements which make their way there.
They have to be reminded that development is not just for one section of society, but rather the entire society. While it may not have been planned in the way it has now transformed, it is so because of popular consumption and demand. The answer is not as simple as declaring certain sections of the sales force as illegal, but rather coming up with an action plan which includes everyone.
Ranveer Raj Bhatnagar