I have been living in south Delhi’s posh Alaknanda area for three years now. It’s a peaceful area with several apartments named after rivers and standalone homes that rub shoulders from the neighbouring Greater Kailash-II. It’s close enough to the Bengali ghetto of CR Park for me to revisit my ethnical roots and yet far enough to avoid the madness during Durga Puja.
But Alaknanda made sense for me mainly for its greenery. Perhaps one of the few truly green areas in the capital, Alaknanda and parts of its DDA colonies shares a boundary wall with 435 acres of the dense forested park called Jahanpanah City Forest. For three years, I believe I breathed slightly cleaner air than most others living in Delhi and during those same three years, I also observed the residents fight relentlessly to preserve the essence of the neighbourhood under threat from a mega mall. Around 40 Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in Alaknanda, GK-II and CR Park closed ranks and formed The Citizens Alliance to take on the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and industrial behemoth, the Reliance Group.
The plan of the 7.3 lakh square mall, touted to be Delhi’s second largest, was born once a slum was cleared in the area in 2002 on the pretext of building a playground-cum-sports facility. But in 2007, the DDA changed plans and sold 3.6 acres to Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) for Rs 304 crores, allowing the building of a mall. Alaknanda residents have been crying foul over the blatant disregard for Delhi’s Master Plan 2001 and 2021. They also allege that the DDA has bent various rules to allow Reliance’s mall plans.
A residential area, Alaknanda, also houses five schools, and residents believe that the mega mall would lead to further traffic congestion, water, power and sewage issues, and crime and drug problems. The nightmarish traffic coming in from the bottleneck that is Savitri (currently DT Cinemas) right up to Alaknanda market will be acerbated further with the 15,000 footfalls that the mega mall promises.
The residents filed several RTIs, internally circulated their findings, got the media involved and even moved Delhi High Court in 2013. In July this year, the Delhi High Court has instated a two-member committee to examine the issue and submit a report within 8 weeks.
Following this, hoardings screaming “No to Alaknanda Mega Mall Scandal” have sprouted all over the neighbourhood. The RWAs also distributed a pamphlet tracing their struggle and reasons behind opposition. They claim to have political backing from across party lines from the BJP, Congress and AAP.
This protest by the urban upper middle class demography is unique, as it comprises a social class that is often accused of being selfish and self-involved. More importantly, the residents are fighting a powerful group like Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) whose Reliance Retail will be setting up the mall. The citizens are fighting to reclaim their land, their neighbourhood, and more importantly, their future. Their effort must be lauded.