The government is determined to spend Rs.20,000 crore to their very ambitious dream project of revamping of the Central Vista in Delhi. Some activists say that it is an attempt to ‘erase’ monuments and buildings of national importance, endangering a cultural hotspot of Delhi. This project is much more than expanding the space for the government’s functioning but some believe that this will give the required advancements and modernization.
There is no doubt that the government needs more space and modernization but will that happen at the cost of Grade I heritages? While researching for this article, I came across a fact that as per a 2009 notification issued by the government of Delhi, the Central Vista Precincts are listed as a Grade I heritage precinct and the North and South Block buildings, the National Archives, Sansad Bhawan as Grade I heritage buildings.
The Central Vista project seeks to build a new triangular parliament and other central government offices in Lutyens’ zone in central Delhi. A historian once told me that when you are in the present you cannot ignore the past and when you are studying the past you cannot simply escape the present.
The fight over this area is not new. In the 1920s, architects of New Delhi, Edwin Lutyens, and Herbert Baker disagreed over the height of the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the North and South Block buildings, which in turn ended an old friendship between the two.
It was decided during the Delhi Durbar in December 1911 that the capital of the British Indian Empire would be relocated from Calcutta to Delhi, and Delhi as the capital was inaugurated in 1931. There was a need to get a residence for the British Viceroy in Delhi and other administrative buildings. Two famous English Architects were called to design the administrative buildings and to plan the town, Lutyens and Baker.
Sir Edward Lutyens was known for his skill of matching traditional architecture with the style of his era, and the Rashtrapati Bhawan is one fine example of his mastery.
The majority of the contribution in the making of New Delhi goes to Lutyens (as it is known as the Lutyens Zone), but Herbert Baker was not far behind. The man behind the construction of the Secretariat buildings (north and south), Sir Herbert Baker is remembered as the dominant force in South African architecture for two decades, he was called to work with Lutyens on Delhi from South Africa.
He went on to design the Secretariat Building in New Delhi and Parliament House, also in New Delhi. He also designed the bungalows of Members of Parliament in New Delhi.
The construction of the Parliament House was started in 1921 and it was completed in 1927. The opening ceremony of the Parliament House, which then housed the Imperial Legislative Council, was done by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin. It is said that the circular structure of the 11th-century Chausath Yogini Temple may also have inspired the design of the building.
The construction of the Viceroy’s House was also started in 1921, completed in 1927, and inaugurated in 1931. When India gained Independence, the Viceroy’s House was given to the Governor-General C. Rajagoapalachari and in 1950, it was then given to the then Head of the state, President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad and the central vista in a way became the seat of the Government of India.
The Central Vista in the real sense is the powerhouse of Indian democracy that houses major ministries, Parliament, and the Rashtrapati Bhawan and undoubtedly it has a special heritage value attached to it. Renovation is understandable as the old buildings might need regular renovation but replacing it completely is something different and might be disastrous.
Two other buildings that might get affected by this plan are the National Museum and the National Archives. I happen to be a regular visitor to both the institutions that contain India’s rich historical treasures. One of Delhi’s reputed Urban historians, Prof. Narayani Gupta has pointed out that, ‘libraries and museum holdings do not take kindly to relocation.’ If we look back in history, we will find out that when the Imperial Records Department was moved to Delhi from Calcutta, many valuables were lost in the transit.
Reuters earlier reported the expert’s take on the rising issue of urbanization is that “Many of Asia’s booming cities are failing to preserve their cultural heritage and risk losing traditional knowledge, crucial for inclusiveness and sustainability, say experts”
On one hand, where development and up-gradation is a necessity to match the demand of the future, ample amount of thought and time should be devoted to study and analyze the safety and preservation of one of the most important sites in the nation that house the temple of Indian democracy, Parliament and the magnificent Rashtrapati Bhawan and which is an integral part of our history.
There is an old saying, “make in haste and repent at leisure”. Any hurry in the decision or implementation without proper detailed analysis may lead to monumental damage to the heritage value of the central vista, which could not be reclaimed or rebuilt.