The collapse of a section of ‘C’ Block of Connaught Place confirms that only lip-service is paid to what is commonly referred to as an “icon” of the Capital. For, while the circular colonnaded structure has been commercially exploited over the past 80 years, precious little has been done to reinforce buildings that have visibly shown signs of strain. The collapse may have been triggered by modifications being carried out when converting the long-vacant space into a restaurant, but it would be a classic case of self-deception not to accept that decay has been evident for over a decade. That only “cosmetics” have been applied is exemplified by the so-called renovation and restoration undertaken by the New Delhi Municipal Council ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010. It was a patchwork operation, the cost and time over-runs raised suspicions of a huge scam ~ whether inquiries now ordered will examine that “angle” has not been made clear. Nor has a determined effort been made to assess the impact on the old structure of the underground section of the Metro passing in close proximity to ‘C’ Block. Not that “official” agencies are alone to blame. The traders who have thrived on old, low rents have been guilty of “bleeding” the popular shopping complex and business premises. No serious attempt has been made to pool their considerable resources and upgrade the structure ~ they have expected the several owners to do that, even when aware that low rentals make that financially impossible. Truly “out of the box” solutions will have to be found, the ownership/tenancy arrangements thoroughly revamped so that adequate funds are made available to strengthen the tottering structures, enable them to bear the weight of air-conditioning plants, generators and water tanks. It is often forgotten that the top floors of Connaught Place are residential units, and again only nominal rents are paid. Just who will have the courage to “bell the cat” is difficult to determine at this stage, yet there is no easy way out. Unlike Calcutta, Bombay, Madras or Bangalore, it has never been easy for Delhi to come to terms with its colonial past: which explains why the decay of Connaught Place raised so few concerns. Would things have been different if the
“CP crowd” had accepted its revised name of Indira Chowk? Or would that have led to the present government gleefully awaiting further collapses?