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Central Vista Project: The Same Old Tussle Between Modernization v/s Heritage

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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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