Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the Central Vista redevelopment project made jarring news. The redevelopment of Central Vista, India’s power center, is planned to be completed by 2024.
A new Parliament building, a new Central Secretariat, and a revamped Rajpath, the 3 km stretch from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhawan, are all part of the redevelopment plan. The process commenced in 2019, with the invitation of proposals from eminent architects around the country. The bid was won by an Ahmedabad based design firm called HCP Design, Planning & Management Pvt. Ltd., led by architect Bimal Patel.
So, what is the proposed design for Central Vista all about?
The area extending from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, in Delhi, is termed as the Central Vista. Though this remarkable and historical precinct was constructed during the British Raj, it nurtured and gained imminent importance in the post-independence era. Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament building, North & South Block, and central government secretariat buildings along Rajpath, all are part of the Central Vista. Institutions like National Museum, National Archives, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), Udyog Bhawan, Bikaner House, and various other plots in the vicinity, also come under the umbrella of Central Vista.
The proposed redevelopment consists of two main features- a new Parliament building and a new common Central Secretariat. The new central government secretariat, which will come upon the location where the IGNCA and Raksha Bhawan are currently situated, will comprise of eight buildings, each having eight floors. The entire complex will have the capacity to house about 25,000-32,000 employees belonging to the various ministries.
The new Parliament building will be constructed at the intersection of the triangle of the Red Cross Road and the Raisina Road, with the capacity to seat 900 to 1,200 Ministers of Parliament. The proposed capacity is enough to allow joint sessions of both the Houses. Another new feature will be the PM’s residence and his office, to be located behind the South Block. The primary motive for a PMO in the vicinity is to improve efficiency. The PM’s house will be connected to his new office and the new parliament via nuclear-attack resistant underground tunnels. Similarly, the Vice President’s new residence will be located behind the North Block.
The Rashtrapati Bhawan will remain untouched, while the North and South Blocks will be converted to museums showcasing ‘Making of Modern India’ and ‘India at 75′. The current National Museum will be demolished and relocated. To ensure the prominence of India Gate and maintain the war memorials’ glory, no other building will be taller than the structure.
The plan also includes the demolition of a few existing secretariat buildings such as Rail Bhavan, Shastri Bhavan, as well as the Ministry of External Affairs’ building, Vice President’s Residence, and other buildings along the Rajpath.
Why exactly are architects, environmentalists, and heritage conservationists’ not happy with the proposal?
Since the announcement of the bid for the project, it has faced numerous petitions and negative reviews for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, no parliamentary debates or discussions, public consultation or expert review, preceded the declaration of the project. The necessity of the project was not established with sound environmental, heritage, administrative, and technical parameters. There is growing concern over Delhi’s cultural heritage being destroyed with this revamp.
Also, the lack of transparency in the bidding process, where only six firms were deemed eligible and the entire process of shortlisting and submission of proposals happened within a span of seven weeks, further weakened the proposal. Another constant discussion is the fast-forwarded timeline of the project, where the revamping of the central vista landscape is slated by the end of 2020.
Another major flaw is the violation of the master plan of the city. As much as 80 acres of land, currently accessible for the general public, will become restricted after the redevelopment and will be accessed only by government officials. Another argument put forward by architects’ is the change in land use, with no compensation for the spaces that wouldn’t be public anymore. Additionally, no heritage audit has been carried out for the project. Buildings of national importance and architectural excellence are going to be demolished or modified under the proposed development. Furthermore, no environmental audit has been undertaken either.
The question now is, will the objections and petitions make an impact on the government’s decision? Or will we see a new picture of Delhi’s landscape?