Super Bazar: A landmark cries for attention | Latest News Delhi

Super Bazar: A landmark cries for attention | Latest News Delhi

One day in 1970, Chetan Sharma, a Delhi University student at the time, and his friends took a fatfatiya (back then, public transport vehicles that could carry six to eight people built around the body of old Harley Davidson motorbikes) for eight anna from Gurdwara Sisganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk to Connaught Place (CP).

Super Bazar was launched in 1966, months after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, by the Congress-led central government as a measure to keep price rise in check. (HT Archive)
Super Bazar was launched in 1966, months after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, by the Congress-led central government as a measure to keep price rise in check. (HT Archive)

The young men were bursting with excitement as they raced towards the bustling Super Bazar, India’s first superstore, located near Shankar Market in CP. It was time to spend the 70they had pooled in to buy the coveted, compact transistor, whose handle did the work of an antenna.

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“But we knew it would take us hours to hold that transistor in our hands. The queue outside Super Bazar reached the fire station in Connaught Place’s outer circle. It’s like how people queue up now to buy the latest iPhone . Super Bazar was the place to visit at the time,” recalled Sharma (70), a retired businessman.

Super Bazar, a six-storey superstore — Delhi and India’s first — which served as a city landmark for decades, now stands lost to time and neglect. It was launched in 1966, months after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, by the Congress-led central government as a measure to keep price rise in check. The supermarket, which was developed by the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), sold everything from subsidised sugar to palm oil, vegetables to HMT watches, stationery to construction material, even transistors, and, when they eventually became available, computers.

Its glory days were long behind it when it shut in 2002, weighed down by huge losses it incurred since the mid-’90s. As per an April 2018 report by the ministry of consumer affairs, Super Bazar began incurring losses in 1996, due to “overstaffing, failure of management, inadequacy of working capital, and a lack of competitive approach on part of the management.”

For the last two decades, Super Bazar has been locked in a long, messy arbitration with employee unions over the closure and payment of their dues.

An official at NDMC, which owns Super Bazar, and which comes under the Union government, said that following the arbitration, the civic body plans to demolish the existing six-storey structure to make way for a modern, multi-storey mall. “The arbitration is still in its final stages. We are hoping to expedite the proceedings,” the NDMC official told HT requesting anonymity.

In 1962, the land was allocated to the NDMC by the central government’s Land and Estate Office (L&DO) on the condition that only a shopping centre could be built here. “So, this place will continue to be used as a shopping complex even after redevelopment as its use is clearly marked in the master plan of Delhi,” the official added.

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While Super Bazar was grappling with uncertainty about its future, Delhi got its first mall – Ansal Plaza at Khel Gaon Marg in November 1999. A year after Super Bazar shut down, Gurugram (which was Gurgaon at the time) welcomed its first one, DLF City mall; Noida opened doors to the Great India Place mall in 2007. And with an influx of malls, Delhi forgot its beloved Super Bazar.

Next to the dusty, cobwebbed entrance , the signage in faded yellow paint still reads Super Bazar. The bus stop near Shankar Market as well as the signage on pedestrian subways in Connaught Circus still bear the superstore’s name.

A photograph from HT archives, shot in the year 1970, highlights Delhi’s affair with Super Bazar. In the photograph, the front walls of the building are covered by billboards– Mohun’s New Life Corn Flakes on the third floor, Gold Coin Real Apple Juice on the fourth, Gwalior Suiting & Shirting across the top floor, and others for Trishul cement, Albion plywood. In the centre, below “NDMC Pant Bazar” is a vertical billboard of Parle biscuits. And there are also posters of the Hindi films that released that year: Yaadgar, Pehchan, Khilona, and The Train.

The walls stand bare and broken now, with two signboards from the “office of the liquidator” on the main porch and fading signage of old stores elsewhere. The security guard of the complex told HT, “The upper floors are badly damaged, and access has been restricted due to safety reasons.”

Pankaj Aggarwal, 62, a resident of Safdarjung Enclave who also served as an auditor at the superstore, said that Super Bazar offered Delhiites their first mall experience. “I served as an auditor in the market in the late ’80s. Super Bazar also had a coffee house on the ground floor, run by the Coffee Board of India. When my friends and I were in our early 20s, we made it a point to go to the cafe if we were in Connaught Place. We wanted to see what new products were being sold at Super Bazar,” he recalled.

The traders along the periphery of Shankar Market recall how the market used to be a hotspot in the ’80s and ’90s. Rakesh Kumar Shukla, 56, a trader at Shankar Market, told HT, “Super Bazar offered cheaper products as everything was directly supplied by the government, and there were no middlemen.”

An April 21, 1987, rate card from Super Bazar lists the prices: a dozen bananas for 7.5, potatoes for 1.25 per kilogram, onions for 2.5 per kilo, 5.5 for 100g butter, 6.1 for a dozen eggs.

In his book Civil Disobedience: Two Freedom Struggles, One Life, Lakshmi Chand Jain, political activist and the-then secretary of India Cooperative Union (which represented the cooperative movement in India) wrote, “To carry the price influence of Super Bazar over retail trade in Delhi, All India Radio would put out a daily price bulletin in the morning comparing market rates versus Super Bazar rates. This had the impact of dampening prices in Delhi. The message got out; ‘we were the watchdog’.”

Shukla recalled how in the late ’90s, as the city battled an onion crisis, long queues of people – many in their scooters – were seen outside Super Bazar.

“It was announced that no one would get more than two kilos of onions,” he said. But there were happy memories as well. “If there was a wedding in the family, all the shopping would be done at Super Bazar – from sugar, cannisters of oils, vegetables, even clothes and decorative items. It was a dream-come-true for any middle-class family.” At its peak, Super Bazar had 150 smaller shops and supply vans across the city, and over 2,200 employees.

But it wasn’t just Delhi that was charmed by the Super Bazar. There was also a steady trickle of buyers from neighbouring states. “People would take a train to Delhi and get down at Shivaji Bridge to walk to Super Bazar,” said an NDMC official.

By the mid ’90s, however, it all changed. The cooperative store, which was making profits from the ’70s till the mid-’90s, saw its losses rise from 68 lakh in 1996-97 to a whopping 16 crore in 2000-2001, before it shut. And then the employee unions went into arbitration against the closure. In 2009, there was a feeble attempt to revive the market by Writers & Publishers Pvt. Ltd but that didn’t succeed.

In 2023, the ground floor of the building was vacated by the official liquidator, and the matter of reusing the space came up. NDMC council member Kuljeet Singh Chahal said, “Super Bazar is closely linked with the growth of Delhi as a city. We are looking forward to developing the site so it can be put to some use. I have raised the issue with the council chairman and a redevelopment plan would be taken up.”

An NDMC official said the only way forward is to demolish the building to build a new shopping complex, or a mall. “The council is working towards expediting the arbitration. The losses suffered by us due to the building lying unused have been much more than the amount for which arbitration is taking place. We hope to wrap it up soon,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sharma wondered if the redeveloped mall would be able to lock in some of the old-world charm. “The transistor I bought from there lasted me a decade. Super Bazar was unique. I am not sure the future version will replicate it all. It will be like just another mall in the city, but I would like to check it out,” he said.

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