Traders Say Heritage Nod Must For Repairs But Takes ForeverMayank.Manohar@timesgroup.com
Connaught Place is looking shaky at 90. Alarm bells rang when parts of two buildings tumbled down a week apart, in February 2017, but 20 months later, neither the shop owners nor the city’s heritage and civic bodies have done anything to preserve this iconic market.
Despite the costly renovation of the facade finished five years ago, the buildings are in such a bad shape that an in-house survey by New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) found only 356 of 1,239 in “good condition”.
More than their age, abuse and long neglect have weakened the buildings rapidly. NDMC’s inspection report mentions issues like seepage, cracks in walls, heavy load on the terrace, illegal construction, damaged roofs and ceilings, etc. In the backlanes, wires and pipes jut into view everywhere. In some places, trees have taken root inside cracks in the walls.
Ironically, rules meant to safeguard the market’s heritage character have become a hurdle for its upkeep. No heritage building can be repaired or renovated without the permission of the city’s Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC), but shop owners say the HCC sits on their proposals indefinitely.
“Many owners have applied to the HCC but not got permission, while their buildings are deteriorating by the day,” said Ruchin Garg, a shop owner. TOI could not get the HCC to respond to this allegation.
Garg said NDMC is also responsible for the deterioration as it has not acted against establishments placing heavy loads on buildings. “After the roof collapse, we wrote several letters to NDMC to take action against the increasing load on rooftops, but they did hardly anything.”
When he filed an RTI to know why NDMC had not repaired the two damaged buildings in C and L blocks, he was told it was the owners’ responsibility. But owners cannot do anything without the HCC’s permission, which is hard to get.
Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders’ Association, said if NDMC cannot repair the buildings, it should at least help them get the HCC’s permission. “It is difficult for the owners to get permission on their own, and many have stopped trying due to the HCC’s lethargic response.”
For the shop owners, going by the book is not only slow but also expensive. For example, a proposal for repairs can only be made by a consultant architect registered with NDMC. “If owners follow the rules, even minor repairs will cost at least Rs 5-6 lakh, and take at least 6-8 months,” said a source. But submitting a proposal does not guarantee approval, and the fee paid to the architect could go waste.
Bhargava said NDMC has not responded to their requests for mediating with the HCC. Because maintaining buildings legally is costly and complicated, owners are learnt to be carrying out repairs and modifications on the quiet.
NDMC, however, says it has done its job by banning all rooftop activity in Connaught Place. It had found 25-odd establishments using the roof commercially.
“We are also in the process of removing heavy materials from the terrace,” an NDMC official said. “We are also planning to replace generators with an automated power switchover, which will work as a high-capacity inverter. We tested it in a few blocks and the response was good.” He said all the generators will be removed from rooftops once the switchover facility is extended across the market.
As for repairs and renovation, the owners will have to pursue the HCC on their own, the official said. “Owners are authorised to carry out repairs and renovation as the building is leased out to them, and it is their job to get the work done.”
NDMC last proposed to redevelop Connaught Place in 2006. However, the Rs 615-crore project was delayed, and last year, Comptroller and Auditor General of India pointed out many deficiencies in the work.
The civic body had aimed to redevelop the market with better subways, roads, parking, free-flowing traffic, etc, while conserving its heritage character and the structural stability of its buildings. The CAG report said these goals “could not be achieved”.