When the foundation stone of the new imperial capital was laid in 1911, why was a committee set up to decide on the choice of a site the next year? Why did the committee settle for the choice of the present day New Delhi, when the then seat of government was North Delhi? What explains the then British government’s hurry in laying the foundation stone, which had been engraved just a day earlier?
An authentic and detailed response to such questions can be obtained from former journalist and collector of antiquarian books BN Uniyal, one of the few individuals who possesses an extremely scarce historical document — the first edition of the three-volume report of the first-ever Delhi Town Planning Committee of 1912.
King Edward VIII and the Queen were scheduled to depart to London the day after presiding over the imperial durbar at Kingsway Camp on December 15, 1911. “The foundation stone (of the new capital) is of ordinary stone and had been engraved just a day earlier. Apparently, the entire affair had been conducted in much hurry,” said Uniyal.
In its report of 1913, the George SC Swinton-chaired committee — with John A Broadie and Edwin D Lutyens as the other members — gave out this argument: “The site (present day New Delhi) is more suitable because it is away from the flood plain of the Yamuna, has no marshy land, has adequate drainage and is, by and large, free of mosquitoes.”
The choice of the new site is substantiated in the report by another weighty argument: “The new site is encompassed within the different cities of Delhi in different historical times — Shahjehanabad to the north; Tughalaqabad to the South, with the other cities of Siri, Jahapanah, Kila Rai Pithora, Lal Kot and the Qutub surrounding it.”
The three-volume report (with six maps) was presented to the British Parliament the same year.
Few copies are available and Uniyal is possibly the only private individual to have obtained an original print.
“I acquired it from a bookseller at Hay-on-Wye at the Wales in the United Kingdom in 2005,” he said.