Heritage protection an issue in Chandni Chowk

April 24th, 2009 - 2:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Pervez Musharraf By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) 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 Chowk constituency.

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,” Khan said.

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 everyone’s eyes.”

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 vital.

“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.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in )

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