Even as the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) awaits permission to construct a multi-level parking at Kasturba Gandhi Marg near Uggar Sain Ki Baoli, a 14th century stepwell in Connaught Place, the project has come under criticism from heritage conservationists.
The civic body had proposed the multi-level parking to be executed on built, operate and transfer (BOT) basis and allowed the concessionaire to use 25% space for commercial use."The company will develop 36,000 sq metres in the building. While the multi-level parking would be underground and hold approximately 1,500 cars, as much as 6,200 sq meters space above ground would be used for developing commercial space," said a senior NDMC official.
The project that started in 2007 is still awaiting permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The site lies between 100 to 300 metres range (called the regulated area) of Uggar Sain Ki Baoli. Following an amendment in the Archaeological Act last year, only the National Monument Authority (NMA) can give permission for any construction in the regulated area.
Experts say Uggar Sain's Baoli is not just any other monument. It is "a wonderful example of ancient wisdom of harvesting rain water" in the catchment area and its use through a built well, reached deep down by over 100 steps.
AK Jain, a heritage expert and author of a recent book 'Lutyens' Delhi ' said: "The catchment area for the baoli (stepwell) is already damaged as there are a number of high-rise buildings between Tolstoy Road and Hailey Road. So there is no need of further concretisation that will disrupt the water flow into the baoli."
"In fact, a massive superstructure like this (the multi-level parking) should not be allowed even if it is within the regulated area," Jain added.
The ASI had sent a stop work notice to NDMC last year following the amendment. Recently, the project developers applied to the competent authority for Delhi , appointed after the amendment. As and when the authority forwards it, the NMA would consider the proposal.
ASI officials say laws can be tough for baoli-like monuments, which are more than mere archaeological structures.
ASI spokesperson Dr BR Mani said: "(The) NMA has been constituted to consider the nature of the monument, its significance and its original structure; only then decide to allow or not allow any construction within the regulated area."
Apart from the heritage aspect, urban heritage experts are also worried about increased commercialisation in the area. Once constructed, it is likely to add to the existing congestion with the opening up of office spaces inside the parking complex.
Experts say even if NDMC is allowed to construct the parking, it should not be given permission to open more offices and commercial set-ups there.
AGK Menon, who heads the Delhi chapter of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said, "There is already a lot of commercial activity in the area, so you come up with a multi-level parking to cater to it. Then you want more activity to fund it and in the process, to solve one problem, you are creating another problem."
There is a suggestion to use the space inside the parking lot for food courts to benefit the large number of office-goers who currently rely on either roadside food or fancy restaurants.
Prof KT Ravindran, former chairperson of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC), said when his team had considered the NDMC proposal, they had categorically suggested a food court like activity instead of shops or office space (proposed above ground).