A view of the Hawa Mahal-like structure that has come up in Chandni Chowk in New Delhi. | Photo: Twitter/@praveenskapoor
A view of the Hawa Mahal-like structure that has come up in Chandni Chowk in New Delhi. | Photo: Twitter/@praveenskapoor
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New Delhi: A Chandni Chowk-based trader has sparked a controversy with his decision to reconstruct the façade of his old building in the national capital’s Shahjahanabad area in the image of Jaipur’s iconic Hawa Mahal.

The trader, Ankit Keyal, rebuilt the façade entirely new, inviting flak towards the local administration for allowing the trader to violate the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) 2041.

The MPD guidelines allow for restoration of façades, but not for new construction.

The building stands on the 1.3 km pedestrian stretch between the Lahori Gate of Red Fort and Fatehpuri Masjid in the walled city of Shahjahanabad. This stretch had been completed by the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC) and the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Delhi government in June, under the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment, which seeks to beautify the old city in the national capital.

On 5 August, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) instructed the trader to dismantle the new structure within 48 hours. However, he hasn’t moved to do so yet, according to the administration even as Keyal told The Indian Express that he has started the dismantling process.

“We have been told that the owner is going to dismantle it so we are giving him some time. Else we will demolish it. At this point, we don’t even have police support due to preparations for 15 August,” the office of deputy commissioner, Sadar Paharganj Zone, NDMC, told ThePrint in a statement.

A senior NDMC official said the owner was given permission to repair the façade two years ago. However there was “no talk about new construction”.

The incident first came to prominence on 3 August when Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor tweeted about the façade, praising it as the “start” of the beautification of old buildings in the area.

After Keyal was asked to dismantle the structure, Kapoor called it a “sad decision” of the NDMC, alleging the administration made the move under pressure of a “few complaints”.

Keyal spent nearly Rs 20 lakh on construction, SRDC sources told ThePrint.

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What the experts say

Local trade bodies and experts pointed to lack of clarity in rules for the move, adding that such redevelopment shouldn’t be allowed when there is already a redevelopment project ongoing in Shahjahanabad.

Sanjay Bhargava, president of Chandni Chowk Sarv Vyapar Mandal president, said: “Such measures can’t be taken without political patronage. If permission was given for repair construction, then how come no one even noticed when an entire new structure was coming up? This is absolutely ridiculous.”

He added: “It is like the street outside Golden Temple wherein we say Taj Mahal has come up… When the Shahjahanabad redevelopment project has already been categorised as a heritage site, how can one have a building that looks like another site?”

Heritage experts are also apprehensive of the development.

Annabel Lopez, project consultant, Delhi chapter on INTACH, said that the notified heritage properties in Delhi have regulations to control the limits of acceptable change.

“The rest of the fabric of the walled city of Shahjahanabad will be allowed to develop in conformity with the guidelines defined in ‘Section Plots with non-heritage buildings in Shahjahanabad of the draft MPD 2041’,” Lopez said. INTACH Delhi Chapter has made recommendations for this section of the MPD, including “façade control on streets with a large concentration of heritage buildings”.

Chandni Chowk is one such street where façade control should be exercised to help retain the historic character of the walled city, said Lopez.

According to minutes of a meeting held on 29 December 2020, chaired by PWD Minister Satyender Jain, “the proposal for Facade Restoration of Buildings of Redevelopment of Chandni Chowk was to be taken up immediately by PWD for expeditious implementation”.

This could have brought clarity to the situation that has arisen now. However, eight months down the line, the proposal is yet to be taken up.

Speaking on this, Nitin Panigrahi, deputy general manager, project and administration, SRDC, said: “The appointment of consultant for facade restoration of buildings is expected to be completed within a fortnight. Thereafter, the detailed project report may be prepared in respect of buildings after examining remnants of facade and heritage elements associated with it, which can also be sourced from old photographs, historical archives, writings etc.”

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