Most probably on 75th year of our independence we may see new parliament building. If not altogether new building, the existing structure may be modernised and expanded which is a view expressed by the Speaker of Lok Sabha, Shri Om Birla who felt Parliament Building of the largest democracy of the world should be the most magnificent and attractive. Even the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi too had expressed his view to have a new Parliament building to accommodate more space. The government aims to bring all its ministries and departments, which are spread over different locations in the city, at one location. According to the government, it’s paying annually Rs 1,000 crore as rent because of lack of its own space. In other words, the government is thinking on the lines of construction of a new parliament building. This has brought the Central Vista of New Delhi to centre of discussion among conservationists, architects and urban planners.
Logistic convenience may lead to traffic congestion
Placing all the government offices in one location or in close proximity to each other may have some advantages as it may help to improve coordination among different departments. But some of the erstwhile urban planners don’t agree. According to them, from traffic point of view, disbursal of offices, including government, is desirable to avoid traffic jam. They also point out that the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB) that was set up to ensure decongestion of Delhi by creating employment opportunities by setting up industries and government offices in the satellite towns for balanced development of the region.
In the planning of New Delhi in 1916, the Central Vista was conceived as a landscaped stretch to form continuity between the ridge and the river Yamuna. The stretch with the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the India Gate at two ends has tremendous visual quality and is one of the finest examples of Urban Design and monumentality in planning in the world. The Jama Masjid was visually linked with Parliament House, Connaught Place and Jama Masjid in the same axis.
Modernisation is part of any live city
Redevelopment and modernisation in a live city like Delhi are quite natural and is indispensable. Even the most reputed urban planners do not question the government on this count but their objection is about the way the government has gone about it. For any project of this scale, magnitude and significance in a location like Central Vista there was a need for widespread consultation before any decision to change is taken. However, some consolation lies in the fact that the government has told that the heritage building will be maintained which means that either internally there will be modifications or they will build a new building nearby. As far as the central secretariat buildings of North and South Block are concerned, the government has the plans to convert them into museums and build new secretariat buildings.
The government is likely to face another hurdle too in its efforts to revamp the area. According to experts, the government will have to amend the master plan of Delhi and the zonal plan before it takes up the alteration plan. This itself will be a lengthy and time consuming process may take much of its time. It should be noted that the MPD-2021 describes the central vista as “one of the finest examples of urban design and monumentality in planning in the world”.
However, deadlines are very stiff: the government has set July 2022 deadline for the Parliament building; March 2024 deadline for buildings in common central secretariat and November 2020 for upgradation of central vista.
Reaction of DUAC
Also, Delhi has Delhi Urban Art Commission, an entity established in 1974 to advise the Government of India in the matter of preserving, developing and maintaining the aesthetic quality of urban and environmental design within Delhi and to provide advice and guidance to any local body in respect of any project of building operations or engineering operations or any development proposal which affects or is like to affect the skyline or the aesthetic quality of the surroundings or any public amenity provided therein. As long as the changes are within the existing norms, DUAC may not take strong view on that. However, if the proposed changes disturb the current look, then there will be objections from the Delhi Urban Art Commission.
What happens to planned World Heritage City tag?
Meanwhile, Delhi government is vying for the UNESCO World Heritage City tag for the capital city. Now the big question is whether the central government’s plan to revamp the central vista or Rajpath, which runs from Rashtrapati Bhavan through Vijay Chowk and India Gate in central Delhi, will throw the entire plan haywire? However, experts feel that the proposed plan may not affect the proposal as long as all regulations are followed. It should be noted that the 17th century imperial Walled City of Shahjahanabad, which was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and the British imperial city of New Delhi, designed by Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century, are the two precincts which were being considered for the World Heritage City tag. The proposal was last made in 2014 and the central government had withdrawn it a year later. And now the state government is once again making efforts for seeking UNESCO World Heritage City tag.
The housing and the urban affairs ministry has already floated the Request for Proposal to appoint a consultant to prepare the design and plan for central vista area— an area of four sq.km. With the government likely to finalise the consultant for the project by next month, most of the things will crystalize soon. Also, we may see lot of actions and reactions, PILs and debate over the issue in the coming days over the subject.