CAP­I­TAL DYSTOPIA

India Today - - UPFRONT - By K.T. Ravin­dran K.T. Ravin­dran is a for­mer chair­man, Delhi Ur­ban Art Com­mis­sion

The re­cent an­nounce­ment by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment of its plans to re­de­velop the Par­lia­ment com­plex and Cen­tral Vista has stunned built-en­vi­ron­ment pro­fes­sion­als across In­dia. It ap­pears from the pub­lished Ex­pres­sion of In­ter­est doc­u­ment that the gov­ern­ment has not thought through the project. The time­lines de­fined ap­pear to be im­pos­si­ble, the con­di­tions of work ig­nore the city al­to­gether and treat it like a bid for a mere en­gi­neer­ing project, when, in fact, the im­pli­ca­tions are far more com­plex and con­se­quen­tial for Delhi. It also raises ques­tions about the larger is­sues of the ur­ban­i­sa­tion process in In­dia.

Delhi has a cir­cu­lar plan and the Cen­tral Vista lies ex­actly in the geo­graphic cen­tre of the body of the city. Un­like most other met­ro­pol­i­tan cities, which have the high­est den­sity at the core, Delhi has a green, open core. This is in­deed a unique con­di­tion and the green im­age con­trib­utes to the idea of a ‘na­tion space’ for the peo­ple of In­dia. Events like the Jan­uary 26 pa­rade re­in­force that im­age. Within Delhi it­self, thou­sands of cit­i­zens con­sider it the only grand, green lung for their fam­ily out­ings. No tourist in Delhi is likely to leave with­out a visit to the Cen­tral Vista. It is not just a piece of real es­tate, but the core iden­tity of In­dia’s Cap­i­tal.

The Cen­tral Vista has been a highly pro­tected spe­cial dis­trict in the Delhi Mas­ter Plan and de­tailed ur­ban de­sign stud­ies need to be con­ducted be­fore devel­op­ment guide­lines are drawn up. The Par­lia­ment build­ing and the build­ings on the Raisina Hill are part of a pro­tected precinct. The Cen­tral Vista Com­mit­tee, the Supreme Court for­mu­lated Her­itage Con­ser­va­tion Com­mit­tee, the Delhi Ur­ban Art Com­mis­sion and the South Delhi Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion are all watch­dogs of the Cen­tral Vista. The pro­posal sug­gested seems to vi­o­late the ex­ist­ing her­itage con­ser­va­tion rules for ‘grade-A’ build­ings.

The area is also prac­ti­cally Delhi’s green lung. Thou­sands of full-grown trees stand in this zone and their fate is now any­body’s guess. The green av­enues of the area have ter­mi­nal vis­tas in the spires and domes of the Cen­tral Sec­re­tariat Com­plex. The im­age is a com­pos­ite of such av­enues, build­ing spires, domes and walk­ways. Even the com­pound walls and the gates of th­ese build­ings are in­te­gral to their her­itage char­ac­ter. The pro­posal seems to re­duce all th­ese to an unimag­i­na­tive en­gi­neer­ing ten­der process. Will the Cen­tral Vista, one of the most cel­e­brated ur­ban de­sign en­sem­bles in the world, be re­duced to a kid brother of glitzy Gur­gaon or Noida? In­creas­ing the park­ing load in the city core is, at best, un­wise.

The most im­por­tant is­sue that needs re­think­ing is our stand on the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals and the Cli­mate Change Ac­cord. One is proud of the fact that In­dia has been a sig­na­tory to both th­ese UN ini­tia­tives, but the new Cen­tral Vista pro­posal ig­nores sus­tain­abil­ity and cli­mate change is­sues with dis­dain. Our in­ter­na­tional po­si­tion is one and our ac­tion on ground is an­other!

Of course, it is laud­able that rad­i­cal change is be­ing em­braced for ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms. The fact that the num­ber of MPs has more than dou­bled since In­de­pen­dence, cer­tainly needs ad­dress­ing. But 60-80 years is the given life of ce­ment con­crete af­ter which it de­te­ri­o­rates. Wish­ing to cre­ate a new legacy for the next 150200 years with con­crete build­ings is an­other unattain­able dream.

What would be the chal­lenges if such a hu­mungous and hur­ried project is un­leashed in the cen­tre of Delhi? While the build­ings are be­ing de­mol­ished and re­con­structed, where would the func­tion­ing min­istries go? What about the re­sult­ing enor­mous con­struc­tion waste, dust and other tox­ins? Where will the wa­ter for con­struc­tion come from? How about the pub­lic in­ter­face, ac­ces­si­bil­ity, se­cu­rity and stor­age sys­tems of th­ese min­istries? An ad­min­is­tra­tive dystopia is what I see; a project man­ager’s night­mare is heav­ing into view!

Some se­ri­ous pro­fes­sional con­sul­ta­tions and re­flec­tions are re­quired on sus­tain­abil­ity, cli­mate change and In­dia’s com­pos­ite ur­ban her­itage. ■

Will the Cen­tral Vista, one of the most cel­e­brated ur­ban de­sign en­sem­bles in the world, be re­duced to a kid brother of glitzy Gur­gaon or Noida?

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