|Heritage protection an
issue in Chandni Chowk
Once magnificent ‘havelis’
with ornate walls peeling off, shops squatting in grand Mughal-era courtyards,
crumbling historic edifices tell a tale of neglect and apathy by powers
that be. But some aware citizens are making heritage protection in Old
Delhi an issue in these elections.
“The Old Delhi today is just
a shadow of the place that I had grown up seeing. Unless somebody points
out to you that this is the haveli (palace) in Ballimaran where Shah Jahan’s
famous wife Zeenat Begum lived, you wouldn’t even give it a second look,”
rued Ajmal Khan, a 70-year-old resident of the Ballimaran area of Chandni
Amid the humdrum of human
voices and perpetual ringing of bicycle bells, Khan runs a small eatery
selling kebabs and korma in one of the narrow lanes.
While serving one of his
customers, he told IANS: “The people frequenting my restaurant are mostly
locals. Sometimes a handful of tourists too come along. But if these palaces
are renovated and some of their old glory is brought back, I am sure this
place will attract many more tourists. As of now, not many know that these
palaces even exist.”
Roshan Raj, who runs a small
wrist watch repair shop near Khan’s restaurant, agreed.
“The grandeur of Old Delhi
is not a new fact. People from all over the world coming to Delhi have
to visit the Jama Masjid and eat a meal in Karim’s restaurant. At the most,
they will also go to the spices market. But Old Delhi is more than that.
“After a news item highlighted
that the former president of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf spent his childhood
in a haveli here - the Neharwala Haveli - it shot into limelight. Ab sab
isko dekhne aate hai (Now everyone comes to see it),” Raj said.
Both Khan and Raj, like many
others in the area, want the MP chosen in the May 7 Lok Sabha poll to focus
on the ignored heritage structures of the area.
“We want the government to
look into the restoration of the havelis. This is our wealth, our heritage.
Moreover, if improved, these places will attract more visitors. We make
it a point to ask the leaders who come campaigning here about our demand,”
Sounding cynical, Salim Ahmed,
who works at a cloth merchant’s shop in Chandni Chowk, said: “Newspapers
keep writing about the poor condition of the historical structures, but
there is hardly any follow-up to the reports. These buildings are breaking
down bit by bit and before you realise, they will disappear in front of
Congress candidate Kapil
Sibal, who is also the sitting MP of the Chandni Chowk constituency, said
that restoration of the badly maintained heritage buildings in the area
is already on his radar.
“We have sent a notification
to the culture ministry about all the heritage sites that we want to be
protected. Conservation of the heritage structures is always on our priority,”
Sibal told IANS.
His opponent, Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) candidate Vijender Gupta, said work on re-development of heritage
structures in Old Delhi is already in the pipeline.
|Gupta, who is also the chairperson
of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) standing committee, said: “We
have a heritage committee in MCD which is working on various re-development
projects of heritage sites in Old Delhi”.
“For instance, re-development
of the area around Jama Masjid, the road leading to the Fatehpuri mosque
and making museums is in the pipeline,” Gupta told IANS.
However, while a number of
people said that restoration of heritage structures was important, many
others said that basic amenities like water and power supply were more
“Of course heritage structures
need to be restored, but more important than that are issues like regular
water and electricity supply and sanitation because they affect our day-to-day
lives,” said Rubina Begum, a housewife in Chandni Chowk.