Redevelopment of Central Vista-Futile Exercise and Waste of Money
Tikender Singh Panwar
A FASCIST leader wants to leave an imprint of his glory; the footprint does not just limit to the polity, rather extends to a wide spectrum that includes art and architecture. If the construction of Volksshalle was the idea of Hitler, designed and planned by Albert Speer, the proposal of construction of a new parliament building along with the redevelopment of the Central Vista in Delhi by Modi and his prime architect, Bimal Patel is another parallel, to a similar idea. Something big and to an ethos to the culture of fascism is the model that is desired to be built.
Then times do not matter, be it the Covid-19 pandemic or something else!
If the country is fighting the pandemic of Covid-19 and there is dire need for the resources to be spent on the basic equipments, medicines, tests, kits, etc., then, it is the bounden duty of the government to divert the resources for such equipments. Instead, the government of India is more interested to build new castles and is bent upon diverting the public money for the construction of such buildings. A sum of Rs 20,000 crore will be spent on the redevelopment of the central vista in Delhi. Architects differ, and state that the government will actually land up on spending nearly Rs 30,000 crore for the project.
Though many architects differ to such a parallel(parallel between Hitler-Albert Speer and Modi-Bimal Patel) being drawn as a hyped opinion and term the present proposal as a baggage of Modi, babus in the secretariat, and Bimal Patel. However, the presentations made by Bimal Patel in different parts of the country clearly exhibit the reason for a shift in the design of the new parliament from round to triangular, apart from the explicit mention of the requirement of the space to accommodate more number of MPs and sarkari babus. He says, the design of the new parliament is in sync to the Sri Yantra of Hindu mythology and the triangle represents the three Trimurti-Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. In fact, this is part of a larger hegemonic Hindutva project, where religious symbols are the premise for the design. We shall counter the second argument in the later passages.
WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE CENTRAL VISTA
The central vista precinct extends from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate. It includes the North Block South Block, the Parliament building, and the central government secretariat buildings along the Rajpath all the way up to the India Gate circle and all the plots of land immediately around it. According to the proposal that has no detailed project report(DPR), a redevelopment of the central vista is to take place, which shall include construction of the new parliament building at the intersection of the triangle of the Red Cross Road and the Raisina Road. Demolition of a few existing secretariat buildings like Shastri Bhavan, Rail Bhavan etc., as well as the National Museum , the ministry of external affairs building, Vice-President residence and all other buildings along Rajpath with the now sole exception of National Archives. Also construction of new buildings at the site and at the IGNCA(Indra Gandhi National Centre for Arts).
The old buildings like the North Block and South Block shall be used as spaces for museums. The old parliament which was earlier to be a museum now has under determined function. A new PMO and his mansion residence adjoining the South Block will be constructed. The PM’s house shall be connected through an underground tunnel to the new PM office and to the new parliament. It is said this space will be nuclear attack resistant.
Interestingly the details are only sketchily, which are obtained from the presentations made by the execution architect Bimal Patel in various parts of the country and according to him, this is an always evolving project. No exhibition of the drawings to parliament or to public has been made. Nearly 2,500,000 square metres of construction will take place.
REASONS PROFESSED BY THE GOVERNMENT FOR SUCH A PROJECT
One of the primary reasons which the government does not pronounce in the open but is fully convinced is that the parliament building is cursed and that successive prime ministers and other leaders could not live up for a longer time, hence a new building-triangular shape, instead of circular, must be built. The idea was floated by one Ashwinie Kumar Bansal, a vastu expert, who was summoned by M M Joshi the then speaker of the Lok Sabha in the year 2002. According to Kapil Komireddi, in his article ‘Modi’s ghastly Delhi Dream’, Bansal surveyed the parliament house and recommended remedies to “rescue India”. “Bansal experienced during his inspection of the place. It is the circular building, he declared in a confidential memo to the speaker, which ails the nation’s polity. To Bansal, it was an odd piece of architecture made according to the whims and fancies of a foreigner. It evinced no fidelity to Hindu, Islamic, or Christian conventions of construction. And its round shape, evocative of a zero and epitomising void and nothingness, endowed it with a mystical power to destroy anything that interacts with it.” The spirit laid out by Bansal could not succeed then, but now as Modi took over Delhi for the second time the same spirit continues to haunt the ruler and the BJP.
To add to it, there are other reasons which are sugar coated and presented before people for the redevelopment of the central vista. Another major reason is that the space to accommodate the prospective increase in number of MPs(after the de-limitation) and the secretariat staff will be less and hence a large space is required. Also, it is stated that the old buildings are not seismic proof and hence the country cannot take the risk of the leaders dying under the rubble in case an earthquake strikes us. Though it is a separate matter that even after vacating these building there would be people who would occupy them and they are not of much concern to the rulers!
CORE ISSUES WRONG WITH THE PROPOSED CENTRAL VISTA REDEVELOPMENT PROJECT
Let us examine these issues one by one. The foremost argument linking it to obscurantism has no valid basis and hence cannot be countered on any rationale. However, the architecture of the parliament and the buildings not in sync with the Indian ethos is not true. In fact, before the beginning of the construction of the central vista, if one goes into the debate between Herbert Baker and Edwin Lutyen’s, one can find the interesting part of the debate on th econstructin of the CV. According to Swapna Liddle, a historian, the British left the English architecture in Calcutta and Simla before shifting their winter capital to Delhi. She explains the reason to it. According to her, the British wanted to build something which is in sync to the Indian ethos. Why? “Because the British wanted to continue their rule, and as a manifestation to the rising Indian freedom movement, they wanted to exhibit that what they are constructing is not alien to the Indianness! Hence they had recognised that the structures of their new capital would have to be constructed in sync with the Indian ethos. Therefore there are domes, chhattris, jharokhas and red sand stones used.”
Quoting E B Havel, the then British art planner, she said that the central vista is like the sulah e kul of Akbar. This was the syncretic ethos in which the CV and the three important buildings were designed. The British moved to the parliament building in the year 1930 and ruled the country for 17 years, whereas our own elected governments have ruled the nation for 70 years. Hence, it is a misnomer to say that the CV and the buildings are part of the colonial vestiges and we must get rid of that. Above all even during the British raj, these buildings were constructed from the sweat and toil of Indian people, hence these buildings are very much Indian.
The second reason cited for the construction of the project is that the increase in number of the MP after the delimitation would be higher and the present chambers cannot accommodate them. This is but another faulty statement. Presently the space occupied by the parliamentarians is almost 1.5 times more than the per capita availability of space in the British Parliament. The architects opposing the CV have cited various seating plans even to accommodate a larger number of MPs within the existing parliament building.
The argument mooted by the government that the present buildings are unsafe for the MPs does not hold much ground. Till date no study has been done to measure the seismic vulnerability of the three important buildings. Even going by the government’s argument; that the North Block, South Block and the parliament buildings are unsafe, do they not realise that after shifting the secretariat staff and the MPs, still there will be people who will be working in these buildings. Their lives do not matter much to the government? Instead, what is required, is, to have a proper assessment of the building and if required adding reinforcements.
OTHER MAJOR ISSUES
The proposal of redevelopment of the CV sounds like a big scandal in the offing. There is no DPR, which could have been contested by different parties. Further the process is very opaque. There is hardly any representation of the people. The proposal has given a complete disregard to the environmental laws. Also there is violation of the basic land laws and in contradiction to the Delhi master plan of 1961 and 2021. Let us deal with them one by one.
There was no sharing of the proposals of the CV. Since there is no DPR of the project that informed the original brief to participating architects, instead every architect gave their very diverse proposals: one among which was selected in what seems a near-random exercise. No preceding studies of exact requirements of government office space were provided or tabled. It means that the project is always evolving, as stated by the architect who is executing the CV project.
There is also no cost analysis. The manner of awarding the contract is also opaque. The principle followed is QCBS-quality and cost-based selection, whereas, this method is used for the procurement of goods and cannot be applied for a project. In a project, comparative designs must be first analysed after seeking them though a large open public competition administered fairly and transparently and with an eminent jury, as done for other buildings in the past in this very precinct. None of this is true in this case.
Another major flaw is the violation of the master plan of the Delhi city. The land use in the 1961 and 2021 master plan terms these spaces as: to be used largely for socio- cultural purposes, thus public buildings. Other parts being built open were preserved as open green spaces. The proposal for the new parliament construction is a ‘designated district park’. The land use for the park cannot be changed. Even for a change of land use for other spaces, there is a procedure which must be adopted. The haste in which the government tried to hush up the matter has landed them in litigation.
The trick that the government played is that instead of proposing the CV project as one project, they are pursuing it in parts e.g., only parliament building environment clearance is currently sought: though they constitute the same composite project. One of the reasons to do so is that it underplays the cumulative impact on the environment. The approach is incorrect; no preliminary studies have been carried out or tabled in the public domain on the environment impact, heritage assessment or transport studies.
One of the most important violations is the usurping of the urban commons. These are the spaces which the common people use for various activities. With the aggrandisement of these spaces and restrictions by the police the open spaces will further diminish in the city capital.
The government must realise that it is just the custodian of the property which is owned by the people as is magnificently described by the Constitution of India. The custodian has no right to infringe on the spaces of the common people which otherwise shall be detrimental to the overall health of the society and the polity.