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Give the sprouts a chance

The steel 'sprouts' at the AIIMS flyover have become the points, rather globes, of contention between the state government and Jindal Stainless, the company which commissioned the project, reports Gargi Gupta.

delhi Updated: Jan 13, 2009 23:43 IST
Gargi Gupta

It was meant to showcase Delhi as a 'world city', a public art installation that could take its place among similar international icons like Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Chicago or B of the Bang in Manchester, in stainless steel.

Instead, the steel 'sprouts' at the AIIMS flyover have become the points, rather globes, of contention between the state government and Jindal Stainless, the company which commissioned the project.

Vibhor Sogani, the designer who conceived of the sprouts and who is now defending them from charges that 'they don't look nice', is bitter. "It's not even complete, and for people to come out with a verdict is bad. They have been temporarily laid out, 90 per cent of them are still covered in bubble wrap which has accumulated dust, the final polishing and landscaping are yet to be done, and the lighting imported from Italy and London at a cost of Rs 50 lakh, remains to be installed. Looking at it now, it present an ugly picture."

So where does the project stand now? "We're not sure," says Deepika Jindal of Jindal Stainless. The company signed an MoU with the government in July 2007 to beautify and maintain the six-acre site on the AIIMS roundabout for two years (the term was increased to five years in October 2008) and has spent around Rs 4 crore already. "Some clearances are yet to come," she said.

Clearances had been obtained from the chief minister's office and the Public Works Department (PwD), Jindal Stainless maintained; even the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) was approached. But with the DUAC, then headed by Charles Correa, referring the matter to a subcommittee, and a new dispensation under K.T. Ravindran coming, there were delays and the company went ahead with the project. Until December 10, when the DUAC met, it had "decided not to review the project as it had already been implemented in violation of the DUAC Act".

The PWD is also washing their hands of the project. “Permission was given on condition that they first do up a small part. But the company put up over 400 sprouts, which is indeed looking ugly. A Delhi government team will inspect the project along with the DUAC to decide what to do with it,” a senior PWD engineer said on

condition of anonymity.

But what do the experts say? For Priya Paul, president, Park Hotels, and something of a connoisseur of contemporary art and design, "They look quite beautiful actually. As public art, it's quite successful. People should give it a chance. Perhaps when it's covered in green and lit up, it won't look so stark."

Alka Pande, art historian, critic, curator, says the sprouts "definitely make you turn your head".

For Alex Davis, another designer in stainless steel, the sprouts evoke an international vocabulary of contemporary art, little seen in India where most public art on roundabouts are in stone or bronze 'beautification' mould. "It's good to see that such a thing is being done."

But will the completed project see the light of day?