Pedestrianisation impact divides Karol Bagh traders

Pedestrianisation impact divides Karol Bagh traders

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Over two months after the pedestrianisation of Ajmal Khan Road, several traders of Karol Bagh have expressed reservations on the efficacy of the move, saying "inadequate parking infrastructure" has put a dampener on an otherwise "good project".

From jewellers to wholesale department store owners, and shoe sellers to cloth merchants, many businessmen claimed that the 1.5-km car-free street has "attracted revellers but kept out genuine buyers", who earlier came from far-off places.

A similar proposal by the New Delhi Municipal Council to pedestrianise the Inner Circle of Connaught Place in central Delhi had also met with protests from a segment of traders of the posh business area when a trial run was conducted recently.

In Karol Bagh, Rakesh Sharma, manager of upscale jewellery store MC Jewels located in a multi-storey building, points to his empty shop, saying even loyal customers are "choosing to go to other markets" now.

"We have suffered a loss of 30-40 per cent since the pedestrianisation move got implemented. Jewellery buyers, especially during wedding season, come in cars or taxis, but not only they can't drive in, there are no proper parking facilities nearby," he said.

Deepak Gulati, the proprietor of over 50-year-old Roopak Pik-n-Pay, a specialised store for spices, said the idea of having pedestrianised streets is welcome, especially with the pollution in Delhi.

"However, the project has been rolled out in a hurry it seems. They (NDMC) should have made proper parking facilities first and then did it, the project would have been really appreciated," he told PTI.

Gulati said, his business has got "severely hit" and he has lost sales volume and his loyal customer base is slowly dissipating, especially those who are aged.

R K Sharma, manager at a Bata store on Ajmal Khan Road also appreciated the "good project" of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, but admitted, shoe sales have dipped.

However, many businessmen said, open streets, free of traffic chaos and less pollution due to it, has attracted more customers, many of whom are enjoying this new way of shopping.

"We have loyal customers, who come from neighboring cities in NCR too. One of them came from Faridabad, parked his car at Connaught Place and then took a metro to Karol Bagh station. We are happy about the pedestrianisation," said a senior managerial employee at wedding garment store Manyavar.

In May, the NDMC had pedestrianised the nearly 1.5 km-long street running from Pusa Road to D B Gupta Marg, seeking to decongest the busy area.

The move has drawn praise from several experts and ordinary people alike, and a recent CSE study has found a reduced level of pollution in the pedestrianised stretch.

From Jaipur to Nepal, domestic travellers and foreign tourists visiting Karol Bagh praised the initiative and said, it takes time for people to adjust to a new idea, and it may have "short-term pain" but eventually has "long-term gain".

Jisele Schulz, 29, from Mexico City who visited the busy market with her mother Margarita, said, it felt pleasant to see no cars, hear no honking and see no chaos in the street.

"In my city too, back in Mexico, at Zocalo, the main square, has pedestrianised streets. People will slowly see its benefits," Jisele told PTI.

Paramedics, Nirmala Shetty, 27, and Swati Upadhyaya, 25, who live in Karol Bagh were exuberant about this project of the local government.

“At least now we don't have to worry about pickpockets while shopping, as the crowd is less," Upadhyaya said.

Nirmala said it felt comfortable shopping now as, “earlier several times when I used to come to this part of the market, I used to get shoved by many strangers, or worse groped by someone."

The NDMC has already set the ball rolling for building a multi-level parking facility at Bank Street near Ajmal Khan Road, besides a few existing ones.

"We will seek to address issues raised by traders. This project envisions to benefit both traders and people in general. In other countries, the traders are reaping its benefits," a senior NDMC official said.

Rajendra Sachdeva, 60, who has been running a store in Karol Bagh for the last 30 years, also alleged that the pedestrianised street does not have proper toilet facilities.

Recently, a section of Karol Bagh traders had protested the move, alleging their businesses were severely hit due to cars not being allowed on Ajmal Khan Road between 7 am and 10 pm.