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Time moves slowly in the municipal wards that fall in the Kalkaji assembly constituencies. Most symbolic of how development has moved at glacial pace here are the two multilevel parking facilities that were completed in Kalkaji and New Friends Colony -after six years -and which have remained unused for a year now. Once comprising urban eas, the assembly constitu areas, the assembly constituency now consists of the three municipal wards of Srinivaspuri, Kalkaji and Govindpuri, the existing fourth ward of East of Kailash having merged with the first two in the delimitation process. Together, they make for a mixed geography of urban hubs, unauthorised colonies and slum clusters.
The two big problems in the three wards are encroachment and parking. This is why the reluctance to open the two multilevel parking lots for public use defies logic. Commissioned in 2010, the two facilities were completed in June last year, but have remained locked since. “Parked cars make the roads hazardous for traffic here, but South Delhi Municipal Corporation has not utilised the newly created resource,“ said a bemused BM Bakshi, president, New Friends Colony RWA. The Kalkaji complex was thrown open to the public for a brief period last year, but has remained inexplicably closed though it could have greatly eased road chaos in E Block, Kalkaji. Rajinder Singh Dhillon, a local resident, described the unused multilevel complexes as a “total wastage of tax payers' money“.
Dhillon deplored a similar attitude on the part of SDMC regarding a new hospital in Kalkaji. “It took the civic body 14 years to build a hospital here but even after its inauguration it has not become fully functional in the same manner as the multilevel parking,“ he said.
An equally big problem is encroachment and the residents are agitated about this.“There is no place on the roads for pedestrians,“ complained Dhillon. “The footpaths have been taken over by hawkers and parked vehicles.“ Even people otherwise appreciative of SDMC's work sniffed at its inability to deal with encroachments on public spaces. Ajit Saini, a resident of Maharani Bagh, was happy that the entire Srinivaspuri ward had good infrastructure and the primary schools were in good shape, as were the community centres. But, he protested, the corporation has not dealt with the encroachments.
In Govindpuri, the main road and the internal lanes are constricted by the heavy presence of hawkers. “There are traffic jams throughout the day . The situation has remained unchanged for five years,“ said Rajesh Singh, a Govindpuri resident. “The authorities are least bothered about the encroachments.“
Many residents reported that the colony lanes had not been carpeted since 2012 and waterlogging due to clogged drains is a regular feature in most areas in the monsoons.However, while a tour through Govindpuri ward still showed trash lying in open areas, complaints about irregular disposal of municipal waste have decreased after SDMC began using compactors in the removal of garbage.
Apart from impossible roads and parking woes, East of Kailash has its own twin problems of stray dogs and monkeys. With no help forthcoming from SDMC, the RWAs had to approach NGOS to sterilise the street dogs. They also appointed a monkey catcher on their own.
“It is the corporation's duty to keep residents safe, but it doesn't have a single monkey catcher on contract,“ said Jasbir Chadda, president, East of Kailash B Block RWA.
Family dispute over offerings
The Delhi high court said it may streamline the functioning of the famous Kalkaji Temple along the lines of the Vaishno Devi shrine if the priests continue making a “joke of the deity“. While hearing a dispute between three siblings over their share in the offerings -or “chadhava“ -Justice J R Midha also rapped one of the priests who is embroiled in a dispute with his sisters.
“You (priest and the incharge) have made a joke of the deity. Nobody concentrates on puja. Puja is a prayer ritual performed to host, honour and worship one or more deities, but here you people are after money ,“ the court remarked, wondering how can people “who auction the rights of doing puja at the temple be permitted to sit in the temple?“ The court's oral observation came on the priest's plea seeking a judicial order to restrain his two sisters from doing puja and sewa at the temple and sharing offerings collected during their turn, an argument he had lost before the trial court, forcing him to come to the high court in appeal.
The priest, through his counsel, B L Wali, argued that puja was being performed in the temple by four “Brahmins“ having an equal share in the income, but this time his sisters were also allowed by the trial court to sit in the puja to enable them to have a share in the offerings. He said the temple had no problem if the sisters entered and worshipped at the temple, i.e do puja, but they can't have a share in the offerings since after marriage their “gotra“ has changed.
But the court would have none of it and made it clear that “we will see as to who will get the money. The court will appoint a person who will record everything going on at the temple while puja is being performed. The person will keep record of the money collected. The money collected will be kept in the bank till we decide the issue finally.“
Justice Midha also indicated he may appoint an investigating officer to see who all are sitting for the puja and to check the antecedents of the persons even as he gave a day's time to the sparring siblings to attempt an out-of-court settlement.
The court has, however, called them to appear on February 10 when it said it will formulate questions and may treat the issue as a PIL.
The HC had asked the priest why he wanted to debar his sisters from performing puja and sewa at the temple after he sought an urgent hearing against a trial court order allowing his sisters to do both and claim a share in the offerings.
The counsel said since the married daughters belong to different families and gotra, they have no right to perform puja-sewa and argued that the trial court's February 4 order should be stayed and his sisters be restrained from performing puja. He sought to restrain his sisters from claiming a share in the offerings, arguing that in the history of the Kalkaji temple, no woman has ever performed puja.
Status, as in 2019
The enthusiastic shouts of “ Bolo sache darbar ki jai” and “Jai mata di” are one thing. The visibly derelict state of facilities for devotees is quite another. Though considered an important peeth dedicated to Goddess Kali, the Kalkaji Mandir in south Delhi is a site of civic neglect. But here’s good news for the thousands that dare its crowded and seedy structure every day. South Delhi Municipal Corporation has a Rs 10.5-crore plan to give the shrine a much-needed revamp.
The civic body will take up the problems related to the temple, including the heavily encroached area, dilapidated structures and the poorly utilised spaces. As for the source of the project funds, an SDMC official disclosed, “We are in an advanced stage of negotiations with a partner on the use of corporate social responsibility funds for the revamp, and an MoU will soon be signed.”
SDMC commissioner Puneet Goel said that the revamp will provide relief to lakhs of devotees coming to the shrine, one of the most visited spots under the civic body’s jurisdiction. The plan is to landscape the area, bring uniformity through beautification, create green resting spaces, relocate the plethora of shops in the complex and develop pathways to ease the movement of devotees. “The design changes will allow us to manage systematic and unobstructed darshan for devotees like at Vaishno Devi,” Goel added.
Located near Nehru Place, the oldest portions of the present temple structure are believed to have been constructed around 1764 by the Marathas, with additions in 1816
by Mirza Raja Kidar Nath, the peshkar of Akbar II. Most of the dharamshalas built on the complex by merchants and bankers in after mid-20th century are ramshackle now.
TOI’s visit to the shrine showed innumerable shops encroaching on the narrow 300-metre entry corridor, making the walk to the sanctum sanctorum especially difficult. The garbage heaps and rotting remains from eateries make any spiritual focus a challenge. Deepak Bhardwaj, head priest of Kalkaji Mandir, said the temple management would appreciate any improvements to ease the pains of the devotees.
Pooran Singh, a regular, said that on peak worship days, such as Navratri or Tuesdays, the overcrowding can create stampede-like conditions. Relocating the shops to free up the passages is, thus, the most important component of the project, said Yogesh Verma, consultant from Designwell, the firm that planned the revamp. “The mandir has shops on all sides and we have designed a circulatory movement,” said Verma.
Verma revealed that the four parking lots will be installed with facilities like toilets, drinking water and washing areas for outstation people. A central shoe collection centre is proposed to replace the current system of shopkeepers accepting payment to retain the footwear. Verma added, “There are no designed entry points to match the grandeur of this ancient temple, so all the gateways will be upgraded to give the place an identity of a gated worship complex.”
The SDMC official said that the consultant had also recommended developing a multi-level parking facility, but “with a limited budget of Rs 10 crore, we may be unable to take that up, at least in the current phase.”