Thirty-four popular restaurants in Hauz Khas Village, or HKV as it is colloquially known, in New Delhi, had to shut shop recently because of a court order sought by the National Green Tribunal. Their contention, according to a report by Wall Street Journal’s blog India Real Time, was that the eateries were operating without the necessary pollution permits. What this means for “the village” is yet to be seen, but for Delhi foodies there is already one significant casualty. Popular South Indian restaurant, Gunpowder, announced its closure on September 24. A few weeks ago, Ziro, another bar and café in the locality, hosted a “Gentrification Party” as their farewell to the neighborhood.
Understandably, as the city prepares to lose one of its hubs, the outrage across the media is roaring. Newspaper reports claim that “thousands of restaurants across the city don’t have effluent treatment plants (ETPs), but are functioning without. The officials have been lax and now the city stands to lose one of the few places for hanging out.” India Real Time carried a follow-up report “The Man Who Shut Down Hauz Khas Village,” about a Mr Pankaj Sharma, the man responsible the investigation. The article was shared several times across social media with alternating comments of abuse and support, depending on which side of the debate people sided.
New Delhi, more so than other cities across India enjoys a variety of small markets and urban villages, as opposed to the mall culture. The newly gentrified Meharchand Market is an example of this—high-end boutiques and fancy restaurants replacing what was once just a few kebab shops and tailor’s windows. However, no other spot in the city has caused as much love and hate as Hauz Khas Village has. Perhaps because it was the first of its kind, or just because of the sheer variety of things at the village — from live music nights to scones for tea.
The media’s reporting of rage and grief across the city might be tad overdone, but they have a point. Since Hauz Khas Village’s inception as a “cultural hub” back in the early ’90s, the locality has been something of an oasis for people in Delhi wanting a creative place to eat, shop, and mingle that is not located in a mall. In the last five years, HKV came up as Delhi’s answer to London’s Shoreditch or New York’s East Village. However, the original leasers were not in favor of this overdevelopment. When independent bookstore Yodakin had to close, its owner, Arpita Das, cited the popularity of the neighborhood and the increasing rent as the cause.
There have been concerns about HKV joints as potential fire hazards. Ringing true to these concerns, popular nightspot Out of the Box had caught fire in 2011 – only to remerge bigger and more popular, but with little that seems ensures protected space.
Restaurant owners claim they knew nothing about the ETPs, but the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) claims the eateries had a month’s grace to install them.
Meanwhile, on Gunpowder’s Facebook page, the cries of despair carry on. “So sad” and “Disaster” were common comments, while in the midst of all this, one brave commenter adds, “Environmental issues and safety of people are any day more important than “hot, steaming appam.” I hope you open in a proper market or mall.”
A final decision on the petition was made on September 24. According to a report in Hindustan Times, 25 out of the 34 restaurants were allowed to reopen, provided they put into place all the pollution check measures. A committee was also formed to suggest ways that other restaurants in Delhi can operate sustainably.