The Central Vista along the central median of Delhi's Chandni Chowk, running from east to west linking the Red Fort with the Fatehpuri Masjid, once had a channel of water running through it. The reflection of moonlight in this channel gave the place the epithet Chandni Chowk ("moonlit square").
This central verge might soon be occupied with urinals, transformers and police booths as part of the Chandni Chowk Redevelopment Plan which kickstarted last year end and has forced four conservation architects and urban planners to move the Delhi High Court to preserve, what they call, a quintessential part of the old city of Shahjahanabad (present-day Old Delhi).
On Wednesday, Justice S Muralidhar asked the four petitioners—conservation architect Smita Datta Makhija, renowned urban planner and former INTACH convenor AG Krishna Menon, Ashok B Lall and Sujata Kohli—to make a representation before a committee comprising various agencies such as PWD, DUAC, ASI and nodal officer Nitin Panigrahi at its next meeting which should be held before March 5.
Justice Muralidhar also issued notice on their intervention application filed by Chambers of Anish Dayal through advocates Siddharth Vaid and Rupam Sharma, wherein they have sought intervention in the case titled Manushi Sangthan v GNCTD & Ors dealing with the creation of lanes for rickshaws and licencing of rickshaw-pullers as a part of Chandni Chowk redevelopment.
Arguing for the petitioners, senior advocate Vibha Datta Makhija prayed for intervention and appropriate directions to preserve the long-standing heritage of Chandni Chowk, in particular, the vista along the central median which links the Red Fort with the Fatehpuri Masjid.
The Central Vista—the backbone of Shahjahanabad
The petitioners were forced to move the intervention application after coming across news articles which reported that as part of the re-development, utility services like urinals, water ATMs, transformers and police booths will be shifted to the central verge of Chandni Chowk.
"It has come to the knowledge of the Applicant that the proposal/plan submitted by the Architects commissioned by the authorities (viz. Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates) suggests that all 23 transformers (3.5 X 4.5 meters each) along with 6 toilets (3.5 x 11.2 meters each), 3 urinal blocks (3.5 x 4.8 meters each), 3 police booths (3.5 x 2.4 meters each), 2 police posts (3.5 x 9.2 meters each) and 2 traffic police booths (3.5 x 2.4 meters each) are to be re-located to the vista along the central median of the Chandni Chowk.
"The visualization of this scheme on the website of SRDC (Shahjanabad Re-development Corporation) is misleading in so far as it fails to depict the scale of visual obstructions in the vista along the central median which links the Red Fort with the Fatehpuri Masjid central section by the purported re-location of the above-mentioned utility services," says the petition.
The petitioners said the new scheme of things is a huge departure from an earlier proposal under which the utilities were to be shifted to the sides of the pedestrian pathways while also stressing on yet another plan submitted earlier by the SRDC which had recommended that all the services, like water pipes, transformers, cables, would be shifted underground and would be accessible through a tunnel.
Highlighting the importance of the central vista, the petitioners said that it is a "quintessential, integral and principal component of this area and the old City of Shahjahanabad".
"Shahjahanabad was one of the three important capitals of the world in 17th Century and even today retains its urban morphology and character to a great extent. The central vista is the main physical and visual axis which is the heart and soul of the Chandni Chowk area. It has been the ceremonial axis which historically had a channel of water running in the central median of the street and the reflection of the moonlight in this channel gave it the epithet or the nom de plume of Chandni Chowk. The central median flanked by carriageways on both sides and thereafter the row of shops and buildings is the principal layout which has been preserved for over more than three centuries. It was the heart of the settlement of Shahajanabad and constituted a splendid ceremonial street.
"The central axis of Chandni Chowk therefore embodies its historic significance. Under no circumstance can the central section of the avenue be occupied by 23 transformers along with other utilities including urinals and other structures that denigrate its significance or contradict the very purpose of this redevelopment project," said the petition.
Not just the heritage value, the petitioners said the proposal to shift the utilities to the central section is also irrational as huge and numerous structures like transformers, booths and urinals will cause an irreversible visual obstruction between the two carriageways and will completely destroy the spatial expanse of that area, besides leading to an increase in cost of the works.
It also submitted that setting up of six toilet blocks and three urinal blocks on a central section would cause complete chaos as people would have to go to the centre to access these facilities, which will further add to the congestion.