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Times face-off: Is Central Vista an ill-timed vanity project or a much-needed makeover | India News

FOR: RAM MADHAV
Vista project is both a matter of pride and necessity. It won’t hit Covid work
The overnight transformation of Nehru-Gandhi parivar bhakts into Lutyens’ bhakts is quite intriguing. Their opposition to the Central Vista Project on the facile grounds that many ‘heritage’ buildings in the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ) are being destroyed is totally misplaced.
The Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone that houses government offices including Rashtrapati Bhavan was developed by Edward Lutyens over a decade in 1921-31.
Lutyens, a lesser-known architect in London, became famous in India because of the opportunity to build a few important structures like the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House, India Gate and North and South Blocks in Delhi. Contrary to the Opposition’s propaganda, none of these heritage structures is being demolished under the Central Vista project.
Historical records suggest that all other buildings in the LBZ were built with a paucity of time and resources and do not carry any real heritage value. Renowned hotelier and architectural restorer Aman Nath described the buildings in LBZ as a “design compromise” to “overcome a diminished budget and yet cover the maximum land area.”
Incidentally, it was during the UPA 2 government in 2012 that the proposal for constructing a new Parliament House was envisaged initially.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had recommended constituting a high-powered committee to suggest an alternative complex for the Parliament citing increased footfall, insufficient space and challenges of structural stability as the reasons.
Those concerns were genuine. The present Parliament was built in 1921-27 to host the Imperial Legislative Council and Central Legislative Assembly during British rule.
The Constituent Assembly had held its meetings in it during 1946-49. The building has been serving as the Parliament House since 1950, housing both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. India’s population and political activity have grown manifold in the last seven decades. After the delimitation in 2026, a substantial increase in the strength of both Houses is also anticipated. The present structure will thus be insufficient to cater to the growing needs of the Indian democracy.
The other bungalows in the LBZ have also become grossly inadequate for the functioning of government ministries. Successive regimes, including those of the Congress, had to make many structural modifications to them prompting the London-based Lutyens’ Trust to rush to Delhi in 2008 to discuss their preservation. Currently, 39 out of 51 ministries are partly or fully housed in the LBZ area. Many ministries have rented office spaces outside the area incurring annual expenditure of over Rs 1,000 crore.
These factors led PM Modi to set the ball in motion for the construction of the Central Vista project in 2019. It involves construction of a new People’s Parliament, a Central Vista from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan, a new complex for the Vice President and a new house for the PM.
First part of the five-year project, which includes a new Parliament building and the new Central Vista, is expected to be completed by 2022 when India celebrates 75 years of its independence. It will naturally be a matter of pride for every Indian.
The government has put criticism to rest by assuring that all the significant heritage and cultural artefacts, presently housed at the National Museum, National Archives and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), will be carefully preserved. The National Museum will be relocated to the North and South Blocks, and is expected to have 3.5 times more space —–from the current 25,500 sqm to approximately 80,000 sqm.
The entire Central Vista project is expected to be completed by 2024. Necessary budgetary allocation for the project cost of about Rs 13,500 crore has been made in 2019 itself. That brings annual expenditure to just around Rs 2,700 crore. No additional spending is happening beyond the previously sanctioned budget. Covid relief activity is not getting hampered in any way.
The government has already allocated over Rs 35,000 crore for the vaccination drive in the country. Construction projects have been exempted from Covid restrictions in all states. In fact, many major infrastructure projects have been in progress in the country. The cash-starved Maharashtra government has issued tenders for a 900-crore redevelopment of the MLA hostel at Nariman Point in Mumbai recently.
The Chhattisgarh government stalled construction work of the new Raj Bhavan, Assembly and CM House only after BJP president J P Nadda pointed out the duplicity of the Congress few days ago.
Congress’ opposition to the project appears more about legacy than about the pandemic. Having named hundreds of institutions after one family, they seem worried that the Nehru-Gandhi legacy of institution-building was being usurped by Modi’s men. They are ridiculing the new PM House as ‘Modi ka ghar’. But it was they who slyly converted the actual PM House at Teen Murti into the Nehru Memorial Museum after Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise in 1964.
The new Central Vista is not going to be the legacy of any individual or party. It is the need of the hour and a matter of pride for an Atma Nirbhar nation.
Ram Madhav is member of the national executive of the RSS
AGAINST: NARAYANI GUPTA
The staging ground of our democracy is being bulldozed without debate
The Central Vista Redevelopment Project, since mid-2019, has been a race between a nimble hare clearing the fences of ‘permissions’, and a motley group of tortoises.
Even as the tortoises carefully listed the faults in the selection process, the hare had skipped away to the bhoomi puja for the new Parliament building.
As the tortoises got down to scrutinising this new proposal, the hare nibbled the grass on the Rajpath lawns and put up a board reading “government land”. While the tortoises were dismayed at the prospect of the National Museum being relocated, the hare was giving brisk orders to the staff of IGNCA to parcel their documents and move to Janpath Hotel.
When the tortoises reached the Vista, they found stern notices prohibiting entry. When the smallest tortoise started to write down the details that puzzled her, the hare looked over the barricade and mocked her: “But I told you the plan would be an evolving one!”
The bulldozers, physical and verbal, grind slowly, and they grind exceeding fine. There have been no debates.
There have been questions and criticism. These are sometimes answered, sometimes not.
Here are some questions for the hare in a hurry:
In 2019, didn’t the ministry promise a website for the project? Where is it? Axonometric drawings and models to scale are needed to get a sense of relative distances and heights. So far, all we have been shown is a sketch of brown rectangles on a green ground. The number of blocks and their positions kept changing over the months (the plan, in the architect’s signature phrase, keeps ‘evolving’).
This week, his firm’s website uploaded a plan showing five towers north of Rajpath, with four towers and a convention centre on the south. Is that final or is it still evolving?
Even in 1912-13, there were lively debates about design, style, locations. This time, government officials — who are doing most of the speaking — tell us that the ensemble will be representative of the ‘New India’, that it is ‘state-of-the-art’ and ‘world-class’. Today’s state-of-the-art, we all know, is tomorrow’s obsolescent. As to ‘world-class’ — which world?
There is a complete lack of clarity on heritage — its content, its relevance. It doesn’t help that heritage has become the prerogative of the Ministry of Urban Development, the DDA and the CPWD. The Ministry
of Culture, the ASI and INTACH have been silent.
In 1985, the citizens of Delhi viewed and discussed the models submitted by competitors for the IGNCA project. Why has there been no public conversation around the current project ?
We, the people of India, are now forbidden entry to the Central Vista. We lost all 80-plus acres of our public space in March 2020 in violation of the 2021 master plan of Delhi. The officials who concocted the plan and the by-laws are impassive when they are bypassed. The CPWD both submits and approves plans ( “I’ll be judge I’ll be jury/ said cunning old Fury”).
Much work is going on below the surface — the moles helping the hare — to lay out a tunnel for the Prime Minister to move from his new home to the new Parliament House.
It is argued that performance will be improved by consolidation, by herding central government employees
scattered elsewhere into nine towers. I wonder who thought that one up, when the country is being catapulted into digital connectivity?
Does the humongous allocation for new buildings include that of demolishing 4,60,000 sqm of structures, that of transit accommodation for officials in Kasturba Gandhi Marg and Africa Avenue, or the interior of Janpath Hotel, repurposed for IGNCA?
Whoever suffers losses in this annus horribilis, it certainly will not be contractors and builders.
News reports announce in a matter-of-fact way that ‘three iconic buildings’ are to be demolished — the IGNCA, the National Archives Annexe, and the National Museum. These are not just bricks and mortar, they have been venues for the meeting of minds: will people remember Dr Sivaramamurti, Dr Sourin Roy, and Dr Kapila Vatsyayan? They were built up by the work of dozens of anonymous curators.
The IGNCA was warned about its fate some months ahead, but the Museum was given notice only a few days ago; it takes months to prepare inventories, to pack with care, to plan new homes in North and South Blocks.
Apparently one is to house objects and documents till 1857, while the other will focus on the two centuries after 1857. Which art historian in his/her right mind suggested that?
A sub-project of ‘beautification’ is being carried out on the verges along Rajpath for Republic Day 2022. Perhaps they will set up barricades to hide the ruins on either side, as has been done in the past to hide our urban poor.
Celebrate Republic Day? The War Memorial Arch, which we call India Gate, honours the war dead. For January 26, 2022 we need another memorial, another moment of silence — for those we have lost in the pandemic, who will never see the triumphal parade on the ‘beautified’ avenue.
As for those who remain — will they be allowed to eat ice cream at India Gate again?
The writer is an urban historian and conservationist




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