Central Delhi’s redevelopment must reconcile modernisation and heritage
The Union government is planning to give new Delhi’s iconic central vista, a 4km stretch between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate, a brand new look. The area was planned by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, and constructed between 1911 and 1931. The new plan includes razing buildings such as the Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan and Krishi Bhawan that house ministries to build a common secretariat for 70,000 central government employees. This paper reported that the outer facade of North Block, South Block and Rashtrapati Bhavan will not be changed, and that no decision has been taken on whether the Parliament House, a heritage structure, will be revamped or a new structure built.
There are three main reasons behind this plan: One, many of these buildings don’t have enough space for government employees, forcing the State to fork out almost ~1,000 crore as rent to private building owners for its offices; many don’t conform to modern building norms; and many more lack modern facilities. The political subtext is hard to miss. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not hidden his disdain for the capital and its mode of functioning; his supporters have viewed “Lutyen’s Delhi” as an elitist bubble. The government clearly hopes to send out a symbolic message with the new design, of creating a New India, and a new New Delhi.
But this should not take away from the fact that many of the buildings are dilapidated and need an overhaul. The redevelopment plan, however, should ensure that the imperative of modernising structures is reconciled with preserving old heritage. This heritage is a reminder of the city’s culture and complexity. As conservationists say, the preservation of historic buildings is a one-way street, because once a piece of history is destroyed, it is lost forever. Many governments have opted for retrofitting of old buildings or their adaptive reuse. The Centre should take into account both history and the need to create a world-class capital.