The Charminar Pedestrianisation Project (CPP),which was meant to restore the grandeur of Charminar and give its precincts a much-needed facelift, has ended up distancing the monument from tourists. Ever since the traffic diversions were introduced, the number of tourist buses coming up to Charminar everyday has dropped from eight to three. And while this could dent the earnings of the Archaeological Survey of India, it has led to traders in the Charminar-Gulzar Houz stretch counting their losses.
Ever since the pedestrianisation project started taking shape, tour operators say they have started avoiding Charminar, which is incidentally on top of the wish-list of tourists. Earlier, tour operators brought an estimated 500 tourists for the Old City tour everyday but are now settling for giving them round-about tour, taking a detour from Salar Jung Museum and taking them to Falaknuma, clearly avoiding the essential stopover at Charminar.
“Previously, we used to take them on a round trip of Charminar via Gulzar Houz. Now, it is not possible. Even if we want, we are not able to give time because these are narrow paths taking a lot of time to navigate,” said the manager of a popular tour operator. The Charminar Pedestrianisation Project involves making a radius of 100 metres around Charminar traffic-free. Introduced as a tourism project to give walking space for tourists, the project has only distanced its target beneficiary. What has compounded the problem is the police diktat to tour operators to take a permit to get an entry for every tourist coach inside the Old City., which has led to a drop in the number of such coaches now making it to the monument.
“Nowhere in India do we find such restriction on movement of tourist buses. It is taking a week to 10 days to get a permit,” says another operator adding that the tour operators end up playing hide and seek with the police. If until recently, tour operators ensured that tourists got an Old City tour for a nominal Rs 150, including a stopover at Charminar, now tourists have to make their own arrangements if they wish to see the over 400-yearold monument. “Or we make tourists walk from Salar Jung Museum to Charminar and they are not happy as it is a long distance,” said an operator pointing out that the tourist spots are nearly two kms apart. The government had started the Charminar Pedestrianisation Project last year promising that it would be completed before Ramzan. But the latest is that it would take at least six more months to complete the project. The 60-feet wide road between Madina circle and Charminar was reduced to 40-feet following the implementation of the project. About 20 feet of the road was earmarked for pedestrians by erecting five feet high bollards. Earlier, this space was being used for parking vehicles.
“Instead of creating a zone of pedestrians, the civic authorities have converted the huge stretch into a hawker’s zone,” said a trader, pointing out the large number of hawkers that have sprung up on the road ever since. They say business is down by 60-70%. On Tuesday afternoon, traders pointed out how the number of hawkers on the road had increased. “The road is all set to close for vehicular traffic in a few days and this has already turned into a hawker zone. These hawkers have blocked our shops, they have taken over the entire area,” said Sunil Kumar Gupta, member of Char Kaman Sarafa Association, adding that this is not the development that the government had promised.
“Customers don’t want to come here anymore. The nearest parking lot to my shop is in Madina. Most of my customers are elderly and they cannot be expected to walk this distance. When they started the project, they said it was to ease the congestion on the road but it’s the same with hawkers occupying so much space,” said Om Prakash, owner of a jewellery store in Char Kamaan, ruing how the number of tourists shopping here had dropped by a massive 75%. Traders are angry with their voices not being heard. “This is the festival season and we have many customers each year,who have kept aside a budget for jewellery shopping. But this year, there is just no crowd,” said Jaffer Ali, owner of a silver store in Charkaman area, ruing how not only has his entire business gone for a toss, the area is not even looking prettier as was promised by the authorities. “Besides, the pedestrian zone is at a higher level than our shops and suddenly we are in a low-lying area.Water collects in our shop each time it rains,” Ali says. The eateries in the area that did brisk business through the day too report thin crowds as they say that nobody would really walk a kilometre or more for a cup of tea or snack.
Considering that there is heavy traffic congestion and considerable sound pollution around what is arguably the most abiding symbol of the city, a ring around Charminar where no vehicle will be allowed is a great idea. But all good ideas implemented without proper care can become counterproductive. The same thing is happening with the Charminar Pedestrianisation Programme that has been in the works for many years. It is time that those responsible for the implementation take a close look at the project and go ahead in such a manner that the interests of all stakeholders are taken care of. TOI