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A temporary fixture of permanence

delhi Updated: Sep 01, 2011 13:14 IST
Manoj Sharma

After Delhi was declared the new Capital of India in December 1911 by King George V at the Delhi Durbar, viceroy Lord Hardinge wasted no time in shifting his base from Calcutta.

By March 1912, he arrived in Delhi with all the paraphernalia of the viceroyalty. His immediate concern was to put in place a temporary Capital and choosing the site, where the new Capital would be built. He made the Circuit House, a not-so-impressive building, north of the Ridge, his official residence.

In 1912, Delhi saw major administrative changes. Delhi Municipality’s area and authority were reduced and the Civil Lines, to which 500 acres were added to the north, was declared as a notified area — maintained as a temporary Capital. A Notified Area Committee was formed to govern the temporary Capital. It had five members — a President (a civil servant), Commander-in-Chief, the Civil Surgeon, a representative of the Punjab Chamber of Commerce, and an Indian member. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/20_01_pg4a.jpg

The Notified Area Committee got major imperial grants till 1922 at the expense of the Municipal Committee. It also collected house tax and water tax.

In the meanwhile, the Circuit House, south of the Ridge, which was known to be in existence since 1903, was completely refurbished to serve as the Viceregal Lodge.

From being a desolate, non-descript building in the wilderness, the Circuit House suddenly became the seat of authority that governed India. From 1912 to 1929, it was the venue for several grand state functions, meetings, ceremonies and parties.

A temporary Secretariat, with a council chamber (now Delhi Vidhan Sabha at Sham Nath Marg) was constructed in a few months’ time in 1912 at the site of Old Chandrawal village. Designed by E Montague Thomas, the temporary Secretariat, a semi-circular, cream-coloured building, with a long frontline and two lateral structures had the privilege of housing the central legislative council from 1913 to 1926. This building set a style for the bunglows in New Delhi.

Further south on Alipur Road, a temporary office for the Commandeer-in-Chief (now Indraprastha College for Women) was also built.

With Civil Lines serving as the temporary Capital, civil servants scrambled for big houses, leading to a huge spike in rents in the area.

As historian Narayani Gupta puts it in her book, Delhi Between Two Empires, “The senior civil servants, who clamoured for large and expensive houses in the Civil Lines even as the Viceroy was satisfied with the Circuit House, were accused of increasing the cost of the temporary Capital. The Imperial Government, afraid of the soaring rents, wished to ‘acquire’ the Civil Lines houses. The Indian owners protested… In deference to their wishes, the Viceroy decided that the Government would only lease these houses, thus becoming not only the chief landlord (by virtue of the nazul properties), but also the chief tenant in the Civil Lines. Many landowners found it more profitable to lease out their houses than to live in
them.”

Being the temporary Capital, Civil Lines remained the best residential area till New Delhi was built.

In 1920, Metcalfe House (which now houses the Defence Scientific Information and Documentation Centre) was used to hold sessions of the Council of State after the Central Legislature became bi-cameral, while the Legislative Assembly continued to meet in the Chamber at the temporary Secretariat.

By 1926, the new Council House in New Delhi was ready, and the government allotted the central portion of the old Secretariat, comprising the Assembly Hall and the adjacent rooms, to the Delhi University on rent.

By 1931, most government buildings in New Delhi were ready. Finally, after 20 long years, New Delhi was inaugurated — marking the shift of the Government from the temporary to permanent Capital of India.