Delhi; A “Capital” Plan

While no one knows what is exactly meant by Developing or Redeveloping the 200 Hectares of land; the question will simply divert to the investment of unspoken USD 200 to 400 mln..!! Adil

Over the next five years, a mega project to reimagine and redevelop the heart of Delhi will take shape. The Indian Express reports on the history, and future, of Lutyens’ Delh

In the Capital’s history, few architectural projects have been as divisive as this one. On September 13, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) announced the “PM’s dream project” — the ambitious redevelopment of Lutyens’ Delhi. While some fear the project will hurt the city’s heritage and the 2024 deadline might hasten work that deserves more time, others believe the redevelopment will give the Central Vista — the area from the Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate — much-needed change and modernisation, albeit with an “Indian ethos”.

In fact, the last time battle lines were drawn over buildings was in the 1920s, when architects of New Delhi, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, disagreed over the height of the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the North and South Block buildings. The disagreement ended an old friendship.
A week before architectural firms deposit their bids for the project, The Indian Express looked at the history of the Central Vista and spoke to historians, architects and stakeholders about apprehensions and challenges ahead, and what New Delhi could look like in 2024.

At the coronation of George V as Emperor of India on December 12, 1911, he had announced, “We have decided upon the transfer of the seat of the Government of India from Calcutta to the ancient Capital of Delhi.” And thus began a 20-year-long project spearheaded by Lutyens and Baker, who built Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhawan, North and South Blocks, Rajpath, India Gate, National Archives and the princes’ houses around India Gate. New Delhi was unveiled in 1931.

About the redevelopment project, Najaf Haider, professor of History at JNU, said, “The history of modern India has always been of a dynasty building a new city. I see this project as the present government establishing its own regime.”

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The Central Public Works Department, which will supervise the project, has invited bids from architectural firms for this. A senior CPWD official said, “The facade of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the North and South Blocks and Parliament will not be touched because of their heritage value. Inside, changes will be made and we will see if the Parliament will be used for the same purpose or not.” By Diwali this year, the CPWD will announce the firm that will be handed over the project.

Senior architect Ranjit Sabikhi said, “Since the ’60s, the population of Delhi has multiplied manifold, and there are very few public spaces left. I accept the offices need more space, but there is plenty of land across Delhi lying empty; they can build it there as well.”

Historian and INTACH co-convener Swapna Liddle said attention should be given to the “line of sight and any new construction shouldn’t hurt the Lutyens’ symmetry”. “The Bhawans reflect post-Independence austerity and were caught between the Lutyens’ style and the Modern movement… Some can be done away with, except the Vayu and Rail Bhawans, which are pretty decent,” she said.

North and South Block Buildings

Lutyens Delhi, North and South Block Buildings delhi, rajpath, Vigyan Bhawan, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House, Parliament Library Building
While the Blocks, designed primarily by architect Herbert Baker, were being built in 1915, Edwin Lutyens pointed out that the view of the Government House or Rashtrapati Bhawan will be obstructed.

World War I was a roadblock in the construction of New Delhi and work slowed down on the Secretariat buildings (now called North and South Blocks). While the Blocks, designed primarily by architect Herbert Baker, were being built in 1915, Edwin Lutyens pointed out that the view of the Government House or Rashtrapati Bhawan will be obstructed. This led to an old friendship between Baker and Lutyens turning sour. By 1925, the Blocks were partially ready and “several departments started moving into the buildings… by November 1926, the buildings were fully functional even though the domes were yet to be built,” said Liddle. In 1930, the Blocks were ready

Vigyan Bhawan

Lutyens Delhi, North and South Block Buildings delhi, rajpath, Vigyan Bhawan, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House, Parliament Library Building
CPWD architect R L Gehlote finished work on Vigyan Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan and Udyog Bhawan in 1957

Rashtrapati Bhawan

Lutyens Delhi, North and South Block Buildings delhi, rajpath, Vigyan Bhawan, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House, Parliament Library Building
A security personnel keeps vigil outside Rashtrapati Bhawan (File/Express Photo by Oinam Anand)

Designed by Edwin Lutyens, it was first called Government House, and in December 1929, when Viceroy Irwin moved there (even though some electrical work was pending), it came to be known as Viceroy House. Work on it started alongside the North and South Blocks, but several roadblocks, including World War I, scanty stone supply, and a Lutyens-Herbert Baker disagreement led to delay in completion. Four wings of the Government House were completed and the dome was built in 1928.

Parliament House, Parliament Library Building

Lutyens Delhi, North and South Block Buildings delhi, rajpath, Vigyan Bhawan, Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House, Parliament Library Building
The Parliament House was designed by Herbert Baker and formally inaugurated in January 18, 1927 (File)

The Parliament House was not a part of the original plan, and in 1921, work on a new “Legislative building” began, historian Swapna Liddle said. It was designed by Herbert Baker and formally inaugurated in January 18, 1927. Behind it, the library was added to the Central Vista in 2003, built by famous architect Raj Rewal. “It doesn’t disturb the symmetry of the Central Vista… if you see the Parliament from Vijay Chowk, you can’t see the library,” said Liddle.

Hyderabad & other Houses

Around India Gate were built house of various “princes”, and Edwin Lutyens was the architect of the Hyderabad House and Baroda House. In 1928, Hyderabad House and Bikaner House were inaugurated. In 1931, when New Delhi was finally unveiled, Baroda House and Travancore House were under construction. The other houses followed Lutyens’ style of architecture. In her book, Connaught Place and the Making of New Delhi, Liddle writes, “One category that occupied a special racial and class position was that of the ‘native princes’… after planning of the new city began, the princes began to make applications to be allotted land in the new Capital.”

According to the CPWD, the North and South Blocks are not earthquake-safe and will be fixed using advanced technology, as it was done with the New Zealand Parliament. While the iconic Lutyens and Baker buildings will stay, Rajpath is expected to undergo major changes and the Bhawans, built by the CPWD in the late ’50s and early ’60s, are likely to be demolished



Narendra Modi wants to rebuild New Delhi for no good reason

Every emperor wants to build his own capital, and emperor Modi is no different.

The Narendra Modi government wants to “develop/redevelop” the heart of the capital of India, the Central Vista that extends from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in New Delhi. The question is, why? What is the need to do so? What’s the objective?

The Central Public Works Department has issued a notice inviting tenders, but the bid document, titled: “Development/Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista at New Delhi”, says very little about the objective. The government doesn’t even know whether it wants to “develop” the Central Vista or “redevelop” it. Surely there must be some difference between the two.

It further reads: “The objective of the bid documents is to re-plan the entire Central Vista area from the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan up to India Gate, an area of approximately four square kilometres. A new Master Plan is to be drawn up for the entire Central Vista area that represents the values and aspirations of a New India – Good Governance, Efficiency, Transparency, Accountability and Equity and is rooted in the Indian Culture and social milieu.”

The Central Vista buildings were designed by Lutyens and Baker by assimilating Indian architectural styles into the idea of a capital city as it exists in the West. The similarity between the Rashtrapati Bhavan’s dome and that of the Sanchi Stupa is not coincidental.

How are new buildings going to “represent” New India? How does a new building “represent” “Good Governance, Efficiency, Transparency, Accountability and Equity”? Is it worth the time, money and effort to build a new capital just to “represent” values and aspirations? Would it not be better to practice “Good Governance” rather than “represent” it in architecture?

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On what basis?

The note says, “The Master Plan shall entail concept, plan, detailed design and strategies development/redevelopment works, refurbishment works, demolition of existing buildings as well as related infrastructure and site development works.”

Which building should be refurbished? Which ones would be demolished completely only to be built anew? And such decisions will be based on what? What is the plan even trying to achieve? The note doesn’t say.

What it harps on about instead is this: “These new iconic structures shall be a legacy for 150 to 200 years at the very least.” The Central Vista is part of New Delhi that was completed only in 1931. It is not even 100 years old. The government wants to build a new capital that will last 150-200 years, but what makes it think the current one, less than 100 years old, is obsolete?

It adds, “Most of the buildings in the Central Vista area are more than 40-50 years old and have either outlived or approaching their structural lives.” The document cites no study to show that the buildings have outlived their “structural lives”. If a building must be demolished after 40-50 years, how, and why, is this new construction supposed to last 200 years?

The government notice then makes another unsubstantiated claim: “Buildings constructed over 100 years ago such as North and South Block are not earthquake safe.” Once again, no study has been cited to show they are earthquake unsafe.

Urban development minister Hardeep Singh Puri has clarified that North Block and South Block are heritage buildings, so their facade won’t be demolished. Similarly, the facade of the Parliament building won’t be touched. But if they are not earthquake safe, shouldn’t they be rebuilt? Or is the Modi government looking at seismic retrofitting? Is that the objective?

The note says, “There is shortage of working spaces, parking, amenities and services. The spread of Central Government Ministries and Departments in different locations leads to inefficiencies and difficulty in coordination.” Minister Puri has similarly said the Central Vista, “lacks basic public facilities, amenities and parking. The unorganized vending and haphazard parking leads to congestion and gives a poor public perception. Therefore, there is a need for its upgradation.”

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“World class”

Actually, the Central Vista is one of the least congested parts of Delhi. Traffic keeps moving. If at all there’s any problem it is due to security restrictions around India Gate, especially around Republic Day. As for co-ordination between ministries, surely they use the internet these days?

The note says a “common central secretariat” is to be built by July 2022. So, instead of having separate buildings for the railways and agriculture ministries, they will all become part of one building. Goodbye Rail Bhavan, Krishi Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan and all the other Bhawans. But why? What’s the need? How will this make our trains run on time and prevent our farmers from committing suicide? If the Parliament building, North and South Block can be refurbished without being demolished, why can’t the same be done to the Bhawans?

The note says the redevelopment would make the Central Vista “a world class tourist destination by November 2020”. That’s like saying we want to redevelop the Taj Mahal to make it a “world class tourist destination”. It is already one! International tourists are shunning Delhi not because the Central Vista isn’t good enough. They are avoiding Delhi because it is one of the world’s most polluted cities and also one of the most unsafe for women. Demolishing many of central Delhi’s buildings is only going to add more dust in the city’s air.

So what exactly is the reason behind building a new capital? Is it belief in the pseudo-science of vastu?

“Most of these buildings came up from 1911-1927, and they are very imposing,” minister Puri has said. One wonders what the problem with those particular 17 years is. The buildings are imposing? Well, the most imposing buildings are North Block and South Block but their facade isn’t going to be touched. So what’s the point? Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate are also not going be to touched — hopefully.

If you think the minister has a problem with only those 17 years from 1911 to 1927, he soon contradicts himself. He is equally unhappy with buildings that came up after independence. “But those made after Independence, some of these seem to have been built in a hurry, and may have outlived their purpose,” he says. And yet, the government wants to build an entire new capital in a similar hurry.

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“Dream project”

Minister Puri has made it clear the whole idea is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “dream project”. In other words, Prime Minister Modi had a dream. Just as Shah Jahan decided to build a grand mausoleum for his wife, Modi wants to build a new capital for his vanity. Every emperor wants to build his own capital, and emperor Modi is no different.

The tender bid document has so many conditions for potential bidders that it seems to be designed to award the contract to a pre-selected party. It will cost a lot of money, resources, cause environmental damage, threaten heritage… all those things for what? Just to satisfy the megalomania of the prime minister?

The Central Vista is heritage made through public money. It is a visual representation of India known across the world. Before undertaking a once-in-a-century project like this, the government should first hold a public consultation and carry out studies by experts to determine what is wrong with the Central Vista buildings and amenities, and what’s the best way to address the problems. We don’t need a Tughlaqi rebuilding of a new capital.

Here’s a nugget for Narendra Modi: Building a new capital in Delhi has often not brought great fortune for its rulers. The temporary office of the Viceroy of India in north Delhi, the Viceregal Lodge, today houses the office of the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University. A signboard outside tells its history, how the Viceroy worked out of here while the Viceregal Palace, now the Rashtrapati Bhavan, was being built.

The new capital designed by Lutyens and Baker was ready in 1931, but the British didn’t get to enjoy it much, having to leave India 16 years later. The heading above this signboard reads “Dilli Dur Ast” — Delhi is still far. The words were spoken by Nizamuddin Auliya for another ruler of Delhi, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, who built Tughlaqabad, but didn’t get much time to enjoy it either.

Views are personal.

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