It is the country's most expensive retail space - it was ranked as the 21st costliest retail high street in the world in a Cushman & Wakefield survey. Its bylanes are populated by a heady mix of the old and the new. Designer brands like Masaba and Ogaan share space with ready-to-wear international labels like Ralph Lauren. Veterans like bookstores Bahrisons and Faqir Chand, Bombay Fruit Store, the eatery legend Khan Chacha and the evergreen Chonas restaurant have clung to their appeal while glitzy new stores like Oma, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Cafe Out of The Box have mushroomed over the years. The market has played host to the rich and the famous - at one time, you could spot Sonia Gandhi buying vegetables here or Priyanka Gandhi visiting a store with her kids and bodyguards in tow. Farooq Abdullah too has been seen here at his favourite bookstore. However, of late the market has been in news not for its VIP visitors but for talk about the new redevelopment plan for the area. According to reports, a mall and a multiplex are to be a part of the New Delhi Municipal Council's (NDMC) proposed plan for the market space.
This brings to mind a popular souvenir available in the market that proclaims: "My Name is Khan Market and I am NOT a Mall". The Khan Market redevelopment plan was commissioned in 2011 and is shrouded in a mist of doubts, amid numerous unverified claims. Anuj Bahri, the owner of Bahrisons Booksellers, finds the idea of a mall and a multiplex in the market "bizarre". "Two meetings were arranged by NDMC - one in November last year and the other in January - regarding the revamp, with members of both the traders and the restaurants associations in attendance," he says, "A plan was proposed, but we never received the minutes of the meeting or the outline of the actual proposal in writing."
Regarding the grandiose ideas regarding the market's facelift, he echoes the popular sentiment that this is yet another case of the civic body fixing what isn't broken - much like the endlessly-delayed redevelopment of Connaught Place that ended up creating a nightmare for traders and visitors alike. However, O P Mishra, director of projects at NDMC, has another tale to tell. According to him, the proposal for Khan Market is completely different from that of Connaught Place where a large part of the facade was changed.
While maintaining that the plan is for the good of the people, Mishra cites an instance from last year when a 50-year-old building collapsed in the market. "There were no casualties then, but we just want to make the place safer by carrying out a number of changes - an efficient fire security system, a centralised effluent treatment plan, a centralised air-conditioning plant and a multi-level parking lot." Plans are being drawn up on the advice of the chief fire officer of Delhi as well as the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, as many eateries that have mushroomed in the last few years provide only one entrance and exit into the building, posing grave danger in the case of fire. The situation is not unlike that of Hauz Khas Village's chic restaurants, which were also facing the threat of imminent shutdown last year due to violation of environmental and waste treatment norms.
To resolve the parking predicament, NDMC has bought a piece of land from the Land and Development Office for Rs 15 crore to provide an acre-long multi-level parking, a few hundred metres from the market. Mishra says they haven't decided yet whether the parking should be automatic or manual, but the plan is to create an underground passage from the parking lot to the market with the help of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. However, since this is only the planning stage, residents and traders are bound to be wary till the appointed architect-consultant draws the actual blueprints.
Sanjeev Mehra, president, Khan Market Welfare Organisation, at least clears the air on the malls that are rumoured to spring up in the market in the near future. There were no malls discussed in the project, he says. Corroborating Mishra's statements, Mehra says that after a study by the Central Road Research Institute to check the stability of some of the old buildings, the plan is to forge ahead to address issues related to fire safety, parking, and common air-conditioning and effluent treatment plants. "It is at this awkward stage of conceptualisation, so it is too soon to comment on the merit or demerit of it, but it's a good thing that NDMC has finally woken up to the problems of Khan Market," says Mehra.
Khan Market is not the only retail space on NDMC's revamp list. The civic body has set its sights on remodelling Gole Market as well. The reason, according to Mishra, for which Gole Market was chosen is the beauty of the circular facade and also, because the area is suitable for an underground parking lot. Mishra appeals to people to be patient and wait for the designs to be finalised by the appointed experts.
In the meanwhile, shoppers can heave a sigh of relief - their beloved market place will hopefully never become a mall.