The big encroachers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are those who individually encroach upon only small pieces of public land, at times as little as ten or 15 square metres or even less. However, many individuals – 30 or 40 or even more – do it simultaneously and manage to grab a lot of public land. The most common example of this kind of land grabbing can be seen in markets all across the city.
The encroachers are collectively known as the traders association and this kind of land grabbing is rampant across Delhi – from Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli, Sadar Bazar to the poshest localities of Delhi, including the markets in the various localities that go with a prefix of Kailash, as well as the poshest of them all, Khan Market.
Originally, the markets in Chandni Chowk, Chawri, Khari Baoli, Bazar Sitaram etc had shops fronted with a small platform, and they did not have any awnings. With the advent of the Railways in the mid-1860s arrived steel girders, and residences on the first floors of the markets expanded their narrow balconies into terraces. The extended parts of the terraces rested on cast-iron pillars that were driven into the road and thus shaded footpaths were created. These were soon encroached upon by shopkeepers and hawkers, displaying their wares on this shaded space in front of the shops.
Very soon, there was no walking space left for the pedestrians, now pushed to the road. Gradually, the Jain Mandir and the Gauri Shankar Mandir at the head of the market and Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib joined the free-for-all and the shaded path for pedestrians all but disappeared.
Recently, the Delhi high court intervened and instructed the MCD to get the encroachments vacated. For a couple of fortnights, life eased a bit for pedestrians, but new devices have begun to be put in place and soon enough, we will be back to square one.
The story is the same at Chawri, Bazar Sitaram and Khari Baoli markets. A couple of months ago, there were some efforts to remove the encroachers at the nut and dry fruits market at Khari Baoli, but things are back to the encroached normal once again.
All the markets that were built in New Delhi from the 1920s to the 1950s and even the early 1960s had these corridors – Connaught Place, Shankar Market, Bhagat Singh Market, Lodi Colony, Khan Market, Sarojini Nagar, Netaji Nagar, Nauroji Nagar, Kidwai Nagar, both East and West.
With the exception of Connaught Place, all the ‘new markets’ that were to come up in the ‘new Delhi’ copied the time-honoured tradition of shopkeepers grabbing spaces meant to provide ease of movement to the public at large. There is only a difference of degrees between the scale of grabbing of corridor space in markets like Shankar Market and Bhagat Singh Market, and in markets such as Khan Market, the various Kailash markets, South Extension, Hauz Khas, Green Park and many other markets. In Connaught Circus and Shankar Market, all the corridor space has not been grabbed while in the other markets, nothing or virtually nothing remains to be encroached.
Take Khan Market for example, when it was built in 1951 and for a few years later, there used to be a covered veranda, a corridor, to protect the shoppers from the sun. Today, there is no sign of it. In fact, by the mid-1960s, most of it had been eaten up by shopkeepers, displaying their wares outside the shop, erecting temporary partitions that gradually became permanent and the corridor disappeared. It is not possible to believe that the authorities did not know of this systematic violation of the law in all these markets, especially in Khan Market.
Authorities aiding encroachers
Khan Market has only recently become among the most expensive bits of land in the world, but it has always been a market that boasted of a rather high-end clientele, surrounded as was by the residences of some of the richest residents of Delhi – in Golf Links, Prithviraj, Road, Aurangzeb Road, Mansingh Road, the then Ratendon Road etc, and some of the most influential in what used to be the Man Nagar and Shan Nagar, Humayun Road, Shahjahan Road and Lodi Estate quarters of senior bureaucrats, parliamentarians and top brass of the armed forces.
Encroachments in a market visited by senior diplomats, parliamentarians and those belonging to the senior echelons of the administration that was always being spruced up, dusted, scraped and painted, could not have escaped the hawk eyes of the municipal authorities and the police. Yet, not only was the corridor encroached upon, the first floor of the market, reserved exclusively for residential purposes, gradually but blatantly turned into commercial establishments. This was done without making provisions of fire escapes, without taking permissions for converting land use and without fulfilling the mind-boggling range of forms that need to be filled and permissions sought for starting an eatery.
We believe that all this happened in the knowledge of the civic and other authorities and with their active connivance. We believe this because Khan Market is not the only instance. This has happened all over the city. South Extension market, which was a single-story rectangular market bisected by the Ring Road, has now expanded to encompass a very large area, gobbling up scores of residential properties that have now turned into exclusive showrooms for international brands or for high-end jewellers. The same has happened to almost all markets.
This is encroachment on a gigantic scale. There is, of course, the contributory factor of ever-increasing population pressure and the growing demand for shops and other commercial spaces, but the chaos is primarily the result of utter and absolute absence of planning to take care of the needs of a burgeoning city, bursting at its seams.
The unseemly and aesthetically jarring mushrooming of haphazard growth of these markets is compounded by a serious lack of future planning combined with the law enforcing agencies letting the rot spread for decades and allowing the lawbreakers to get away with blue murder.
Once in a few decades, conscientious citizens raise the issue before the courts. The courts pass strictures, the lawmakers and city planners get into a huddle, a court-appointed committee goes about sealing establishments operating out of these illegally constructed additions and then the union government, on a plea of compassion, passes a law that regularises all the illegalities that have become the norm.
Pious promises are made before the judges to put everything in order and not allow the repetition of the mistakes of the past. Lawbreakers appear before television cameras and cry about the loss of business because of the ham-handed approach of the empowered committee, the law is amended and things go back to the old cycle of illegal constructions, encroachments, violation of the master plan and what have you, and we go back to business as usual.
A few years later, public-spirited citizens drag the law enforcing agencies before the honourable courts for another regularisation of illegalities that have continued unabated for a couple of decades or more. Life returns once again to lawbreaking while those charged with planning the city looking the other way, till they are dragged to the court once again.
In the next piece, we continue this unending tale of encroachments.
Sohail Hashmi is a filmmaker, writer and heritage buff.