While GHMC claims they intend to rebuild it to restore it to its former glory, shopkeepers say they will lose their only source of income.

Shopkeepers stare at an uncertain future as GHMC plans to raze Hyds iconic Murgi ChowkImage: SP Anchuri
news History Friday, August 24, 2018 - 11:42

The Murgi Chowk or bird market at Laad Bazar, in Hyderabad’s Charminar, will be demolished ‘soon’ and Mohammad Arif knows this. The 55 year old has spent 40 years of his life running the chicken shop he inherited from his father.

“My grandfather started this shop, later my father ran it and now I am its proprietor. My son also works at the shop, but I don’t think he will be allowed to keep it going,” says Arif.

The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) intends to tear down the 110-year-old heritage structure and “rebuild the structure by conserving the architectural identity and character by treating the site with form-based code development”. GHMC intends to spend Rs 36 crore to demolish and rebuild a new market, and will be adding an additional floor to the structure.

At first glance, Murgi Chowk is a cesspool, with its open drains and the stink of rotting chicken flesh being eaten by a team of rats welcoming visitors. It’s not a sight befitting the history associated with the bird market.

The 19th-century Mehboob Chowk Clock Tower, presently being renovated, stands before the market, its wide corridors lined with chicken coops along the 292 shops that once made up the market. Many of these shops are now shut permanently. Some sections of this piece of Hyderabad's history have already crumbled, some walls are in desperate need of repair, the roofs have rusted and have not been replaced in years. The structure has forgotten the last time it saw a fresh coat of paint.

“It was not always like this; this place used to be beautiful,” recalls Arif. “People used to clean the market twice a day and once a day, a person would come to clean the streets with water. That was some 20 years ago. It was not just meat shops here; there used to be jewellery shops and some shops selling old things. But over time all that stopped. I don’t know why.”

Plans to demolish the structure are not new, the shopkeepers have been hearing about such plans for over a decade, but this time they are sure the market will be razed. To study the structural integrity of the market building, GHMC got the building surveyed by a conservation architect from Kshetra Consultancy along with a team from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University. Together, they filed a detailed report that said the “structure is weak and requires comprehensive structural strengthening”.

The plan proposed by GHMC

Consent

It was following this report that GHMC decided to rebuild the market, keeping the aesthetics of the structure in mind. The Corporation said it took the decision “after consulting the stakeholders, public representatives and the users, tenants of the community/association”.

But the shopkeepers claim otherwise.

“No one consulted us; we never agreed to them demolishing the market,” says Arif.

“If we have to take call on such matters, we would all meet and discuss it. But we have not had any such meeting even among ourselves, then how can the municipality say they have our consent?” asks Mohammad Imran*. “The municipality people don’t even come to collect the rents here, they come once in three or four months.”

The shopkeepers TNM spoke to were against the idea of demolishing the market.

“Where will we go?” asks one shop keeper. “Will they give us another place to set up our shop?” asks another.

Other shopkeepers say they are ready to pay higher rents to ensure the market gets cleaned up and restored to its former glory.

“I pay as low as Rs 160 per month as rent; it’s ridiculous. I am ready to pay a fair rent, but demolishing the market will destroy my family, we have no other source of income,” says Arif. “When they build the new building the rents will be too high and people like me will never be able to even dream of setting up a shop there.”

“I don’t have a shop here; I sell chicken outside the market. If they shut down the market where will I go?” asks Mohsin bin Iqbal. “I have been selling chicken on the roadside, outside the market for 40 years now.”

Don’t demolish, renovate

“The walls are thick and the foundation is strong, only certain parts of the building have collapsed due to neglect. That can be rectified with proper maintenance of the structure,” says SP Anchuri, a structural consultant and architect with INTACH, Hyderabad, who conducted an independent study of the structure. Anchuri is presently compiling a structural integrity report of Murgi Chowk. He concluded that the structure can be saved by repairing and replacing certain portions.

He does not recommend an additional floor “keeping in view bazaars all over the world which have a single floor with heightened, well-designed, traditionally painted roof on corridors”.

GHMC on the other hand has grand plans for the market.

“We don’t want it to be just a meat market; we want to bring back the old charm of the market. Also, we will not be demolishing the whole market, only the central portion will be demolished,” says K Srinivas Rao, Director of Planning, GHMC. “Many of the shopkeepers are not original tenants; many have occupied the market illegally. The chowk and market was originally intended to cater to the needs of the people nearby, but over time it became a chicken market. We intend to segregate the meat market and the rest of the market. We want to ensure that other types of business also take over and not just meat shops, so that the locality becomes a tourist attraction.”

As for rehabilitation, only the original tenants will find space at the new building. As to those who are opposing the demolition of the structure, all the GHMC official has to say is, “Every conservationist will say the same thing, but they don’t know anything about conservation themselves, they should go into facts and find out.”

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