The fall of India’s first supermarket

Super Bazar in Connaught Place closed in 2002. Where once all roads led to the NDMC building that housed the cooperative store, the six-storey structure is now a decrepit shadow of its old self

July 22, 2019 01:30 am | Updated 08:09 am IST - New Delhi

View of the Super Bazar building at Connaught Place in Delhi.
Photo: Shiv Kuamr Pushpakar 06-09-2006

View of the Super Bazar building at Connaught Place in Delhi. Photo: Shiv Kuamr Pushpakar 06-09-2006

In 1966, Super Bazar in Connaught Place opened its doors to Delhiites offering reasonably priced products ranging from vegetables to transistors.

But in less than 40 years, ‘India’s first supermarket’, which was started as a panacea for price rise, shut down owing to losses and alleged mismanagement and corruption.

The New Delhi Municipal Council building that housed Super Bazar till 2002 stands decrepit. Once host to thousands of consumers daily, the six-storey structure now houses a banyan tree with its branches jutting out of rusted and broken windows.

Nearly two decades of neglect have taken a toll on the building. Parts of it have fallen in, exposing iron rods. The sun-burnt white paint has peeled off at some areas leaving behind red patches. At the entrance, a board reads ‘Super Bazar’.

The sprawling structure lies waste except for a portion on the ground floor where an office has been set up to carry out liquidation of Super Bazar following court orders. There is also a small room that is used by beat officers as a resting house.

In its heyday

In his book Civil Disobedience , the late L.C. Jain, who was then working for the India Cooperative Union, wrote about how the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was worried about rising prices, and how the concern led to the establishment of Super Bazar.

Talking about opening day, Mr. Jain wrote: “As the doors opened, hundreds poured in smashing counters and windows.”

“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,” he wrote.

Explaining the sale of low-priced transistors at Super Bazar, Mr. Jain wrote: “In the first year, Super Bazar sold two lakh transistors. Such was the rush that the sales counter had to be shifted from the fourth floor to the ground floor [near the vegetables] to avert the collapse of the fifth floor.”

Pigeons and puppies

Since Super Bazar closed in 2002, the building has become home to grey pigeons and white puppies. At multiple places, signboards read: “ Peshab karna sakt mana hai [Urination here is prohibited]”. Plastic waste and garbage litter the area.

A man who worked in Super Bazar from the 1980s till it closed down is now employed as an attendant at the liquidation office.

“We used to sell everything from sewing needles to computers. Then in the ’90s we ran into losses,” said the worker, who did not wish to be named.

“There was a lot of corruption,” he added in a hushed voice. The worker said that though a private company ran Super Bazar in the late 2000s, it did not work out.

Generation gap

Though defunct for nearly two decades, Super Bazar is still fresh in the memory of many Delhiites.

“It was a famous market and people across Delhi came here and there would always be a rush,” said 65-year-old Ramesh Lakhman Pawar, who hails from Maharashtra and used to sell balloons in Connaught Place.

Raju Shukla, 48, from Gonda in Uttar Pradesh, has been selling tea next to Super Bazar since 1984. “It closed down due to corruption. I used to buy palm oil from here for ₹22 in the 1980s. Otherwise, the oil was only available in the black market. The quality of the products at Super Bazar was ‘A one’. Its closure affected my business too,” he said.

About 50 metres from the building, the bus stop is still named Super Bazar, but not many know what it means. Kailash Rawat, 19, who attends animation classes at Connaught Place, shook his head when asked about Super Bazar and said: “Never heard of it.”

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