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Displacement disaster

The famous furniture market at Delhi's Panchkuian Road would soon be sacrificed at the altar of developmental plans charted out for Metro Rail. VARUPI JAIN listens to the traders' grouses

Fleeting glitter before the curtain shortly falls on Panchkuian Road in New Delhi.

THE METRO Rail is no longer news for the Capital; it has long arrived. So have adverse consequences of some half-baked development plans. Many know by now that the third Metro line poses for the Panchkuian Road furniture market a serious threat of displacement to an almost middle-of-nowhere location.

According to Arvind Mahajan, Secretary, Panchkuian Road Municipal Market Association, 104 of the market's 205 shops date back to the rehabilitation programme introduced in 1949 for Partition refugees. The remaining 101 shops belong to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi - MCD - under the Tehbazaari programme. According to estimates, the displacement of the furniture market alone will mean loss of livelihood for as many as 1,30,000 people. Besides traders, this figure includes the labourers, packers, rickshaw-pullers and others who complete the furniture supply chain.

The shopkeepers are being offered the Bhai Vir Singh Marg area as the alternative site for the construction of their shops in the form of a shopping-complex. Not only will they have to buy the shop space there - as opposed to paying the current monthly rent of Rs.12.50, which was fixed in 1949 - but the traders maintain that commercial ventures in this area in the past have been disasters.

From sending appeals to the Prime Minister to posting pleas to all Members of Parliament, from approaching Delhi Chief Minister to Opposition leaders to stop the move, the Association's initiatives have been impressive.

Panchkuian Road Shopkeepers down their shutters in protest against the proposed displacement in New Delhi.

"In fact, it is only since we threatened to return to Pakistan that the Government has woken up to our pleas," says Mahajan.

Association members say, BJP leader Madanlal Khurana has announced at various fora that Panchkuian Road furniture shops will not be disturbed for another 18-24 months. But such assurances are hardly of any use to the traders as the overall planning vis--vis Panchkuian Road seems to be faulty. For instance, during the laying of the lines, there are plans to allow traffic only on one side of the road, with metal partitions blocking access to the furniture shops.

"If customers cannot reach us even on foot, why should we open our shops? With a proposal containing such a basic flaw, how can Khurana claim not to disturb us for the next two years? His comment was just in preparation for the Delhi elections," says Mahajan.

Besides the furniture shops, the existence of Frontier Samosa Shop, a landmark in the area with a reputation for good food, is also at stake.

Also, since the DMRC started digging along the Railway land on the opposite side of the market, the traders have lost their parking space and have to go as far as Connaught Place and Lady Hardinge Hospital compound to park their vehicles.

The traders also complain of a lack of water connection in the area. Understandably, there aren't any toilet facilities either. They make use of the NDMC paid toilets, which have come up lately in front of the Lady Hardinge Hospital entrance. However, most shopkeepers still trolley water from home.

But for now, their very livelihood is at stake - stakes much higher than water and toilet facilities.

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