Over the last two decades, Dilli Haat has become the first choice for anyone seeking to explore Delhi’s handicrafts scene. It is the go-to place for a wide variety of goods – from sturdy kolhapuri chappals to pottery, handloom, art and, of course, cuisines from various regions of India.
The South Delhi complex, established in 1994 by the Delhi Tourism & Transportation Development Corporation Ltd, the Ministry of Textiles and the Ministry of Tourism, was modelled on the lines of a rural bazaar, where artisans get pride of place and shoppers get a chance to chat with craftspersons. Dilli Haat sought to eliminate middlemen and offer traditional crafts at affordable prices.
However, over the years, the number of genuine artisans in Dilli Haat has been dwindling. Most of the approximately 200 stalls are now occupied by the middlemen and traders that the establishment had sought to keep out, alleged Jaya Jaitly, president of Dastkari Haat Samiti, a national association of Indian craftspeople, and one of the founding members of Dilli Haat.
Technically, only craftspersons registered with Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) are eligible to set up stalls at the Haat, which are allotted on a rotational basis for a fortnight at minimal rent. However, the reality these days is quite different, Jaitly said.
“Many traders posing as craftspersons have come to occupy the stalls permanently," she said. "They have found about 20 different ways to keep sitting there through underhanded methods and have taken on the form of an ugly mafia. They gang up against any honest official trying to enforce any rules and threaten to beat them up."
As evidence of this, she said that some of the traders have become bold enough to get business cards printed with stall numbers mentioned on them.
Among the most popular events at the venue is the annual Dastkari Haat crafts bazaar organised by Jaitly's outfit. Each year, she said, the Dastkari Haat Samiti is allotted 164 stalls by the Ministry of Textiles for the event. The organisation also uses the remaining 35 stalls that are controlled by Delhi Tourism. This year, however, they were told that the 35 stalls would be allotted via a lottery system.
“Sales and footfalls are highest in the year during the Dastkari Haat programme,” Jaitly wrote in an email addressed to the Delhi Tourism & Transportation Development Corporation Ltd and Ministry of Textiles. "This benefits everybody, including Delhi Tourism. Due to this, many traders who have come to occupy Dilli Haat stalls permanently through many underhanded and unfortunate ruses want to somehow occupy the other spaces even during our event to avail of these benefits, our effective publicity, decor and special efforts."
Eventually, the Dilli Haat management did agree to allot the stalls to the Ministry of Textiles. The fortnight-long Dastakari Haat Bazaar ends on Friday.
Ashok Kumar Kuril, assistant director, Development Commissioner (Handicrafts), Ministry of Textiles, agreed that Dilli Haat was not functioning according to the original plan. Stalls allotted to artisans are sublet to the traders at very high rents, he admitted. The demand, he says, is highest for the stalls near the entrances that attract the largest number of customers.
“We conduct regular raids and inspections," Kuril said. "We shut down stalls and take away cards from anybody flouting the rules but they always spring up again. We take the police along but the effect is short-lived. We are obviously not attacked when accompanied by the police but they find us later."
Kuril alleged: "At some level Delhi Tourism is abetting this phenomenon and that is what needs to be stopped.”
Despite repeated requests for clarifications, the Dilli Haat management, under the purview of Delhi Tourism & Transportation Development Corporation, refused to meet the Scroll reporter.
The alleged malpractices have resulted in a decline in the quality of products on sale, Jaitly said, compromising the idea of what the establishment stands for. Kuril agreed, saying that items that have been cheaply manufactured in factories are displayed as authentic handicrafts and sold at exorbitant prices.
Jaitly has suggested that one way to get Dilli Haat back on track is to shut it down temporarily. “If DTTDC is so keen on higher incomes, overriding the fact that this is a unique market for genuine craftspersons, it is better to sell alcohol there and increase its income rather than let a mafia group run policies of Dilli Haat occupancy," she said. "Perhaps it is time for persons like me who conceived of the concept of Dilli Haat with an idealistic vision to give a public call to close it down.”