With footfall having drastically fallen at Meharchand Market since the partial sealing of over 135 buildings in 2018, most traders here are hopeful that plans to redevelop the market, approved by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s (SDMC) Standing Committee on Tuesday, would give it a new lease of life.
“I have been here since this place was a jungle,” said Gurubakh Singh, 85, who arrived here from Sargoda in Pakistan during the Partition. Having started off as a street vendor to setting up a small makeshift store and later his current establishment, Mr. Singh said, he has seen this market through thick and thin.
Stores here, which line one side of the broad 5th Avenue Road in the middle of Lodhi Colony, were allotted to refugees after the Partition. While initially small khokhlas were allotted, erstwhile Union Minister Mehr Chand Khanna was reportedly instrumental in setting up a brick mortar market here.
Over the years, property ownership changed hands from the Land and Development Authority to some of the owners and to municipal corporations, said Om Prakash, a property dealer. His father arrived at the market about 40 years ago. Many owners started constructing multiple floors even though building bylaws had limited their floor area ratio (FAR), he explained.
The market hosts a large number of high-end boutique stores and plush eateries, alongside long-time shopkeepers. However, several stores and large brands had to exit the market following the sealing drive to penalise illegal constructions, said market association president Ashok Sakhuja.
Currently, with only high-end stores dotting the market, shopkeepers such as Santosh Kumar who runs a tailoring business laments at the dip in footfall. “As soon as people hear Meharchand Market, they get scared and don’t even come here,” he said. With the redevelopment plan, he hopes the market will become akin to Connaught Place or Khan Market and rival the best in the city.
New rules approved by the SDMC have now allowed for greater FAR, as well as basements, first and second floors, which had been sealed during the drive. Approving the redevelopment of the market, the SDMC Standing Committee chairperson Raj Dutt Gehlot said that all existing structures would be demolished and new construction would be started.
Not all traders here are okay with plans to demolish buildings. Mini Kaur, who recently opened a boutique garments store here said, “I just paid a bomb for this, I hope it’s not coming down!” While she welcomed plans to beautify the market, she said that the lack of footfall wasn’t as much of an issue as stores had their select clientele.
Municipal officials also said that the market may be declared a “pedestrian shopping street” but most traders here opposed the idea, arguing that the availability of ample parking was one of the main features of the market.
Mr. Sakhuja argued that plans made by civic officials weren’t necessarily cognisant of ground realities and final plans would depend on the maps that are eventually drawn up. With redevelopment plans in the works, Mr. Sakhuja is hopeful that properties here, including his own, will soon be desealed and the market is soon up and running.