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?