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Sonia Gandhi wants Modi to suspend Central Vista. But this urban harakiri must be scrapped

Modi's Rs 20,000 crore worth Central Vista revamp project goes against the cardinal objective of Delhi Master Plan 2021 to decentralise government offices.

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In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, opposition from several experts and leaders, including Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand Central Vista project in New Delhi has coalesced around the view that it should be suspended, and the budget re-allocated for more pressing and urgent health requirements. Suspending the project also offers the opportunity to re-evaluate the proposal from an architectural and urban design perspective, because it was justified largely on those grounds.

The project has never been subjected to thorough public scrutiny. In fact, it veils insidious political agendas, dangerous environmental and procedural compromises, and an unconscionable usurping of public spaces for government use. Not least, it is the banal, militaristic architecture and urban design that mutilates a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. It is an urban harakiri.

The Modi government is, however, obdurate and proceeding with manic speed on this suicidal mission. All objections will be addressed, it says.

Also read: Modi’s Central Vista plan shows Indian urban planners are as complicit in destroying heritage

Where are the studies?

Today, seven months into the project, the cynical nature of the Modi government’s assurances is apparent. In juridical terms, the government has substituted ‘rule of law’ with ‘rule by law’. A complicit bureaucracy and a compliant judiciary enable the project proponent to alter the Master Plan for Delhi 2021 to suit the proposed revamp.

Development control norms are being enhanced by permitting the use of Transport Oriented Development (TOD) incentives that are normally offered to increase ridership along Metro routes serving dense urban corridors. The result is that the quantum of construction proposed for the Central Vista project far exceeds the sustainable holding capacity of this Master Plan designated heritage precinct. All this, we are assured, is being done legally.

There are other egregious faults. Prudent administrative and fiscal practices dictate that large architectural and urban projects of this scale and scope should be backed by exhaustive management studies, heritage and environmental impact assessment studies, traffic and transport evaluations, detailed project reports and, of course, wide public consultation. There is no evidence that these prerequisites have been followed. Instead, what is evident is that the project is following a plan-as-you-go roadmap.

Also read: Narendra Modi wants to rebuild New Delhi for no good reason

Against Delhi Master Plan objective

In architectural and urban design terms, it relies on self-serving assumptions without examining alternative options. It assumes, for example, that a new parliament building is required to cater to an expected increase in the number of parliamentarians, implicitly jettisoning the historical, cultural and psychological value of continuing to use the existing building as a potent symbol of Indian democracy.

In the United Kingdom, for example, with a roughly similar situation, its historic Parliament building is being carefully upgraded to accommodate the House of Commons, while a new House of Lords will be built in York as a political gesture to promote regional inclusivity.

Ad hoc perceptions appear to rationalise the construction of ten square doughnut-shaped, multi-storeyed buildings to accommodate all government offices, assuming that the consolidation of government offices in a centralised location will make for efficient functioning. Where are the management studies to justify this contrarian logic? It flies against the current worldwide trend to downscale government offices, decentralise and rely on digital technologies to promote efficient and effective delivery of government services. More importantly, it goes against the cardinal objective of the Delhi Master Plan 2021 to decentralise government offices.

Also read: Delhi power corridor makeover will cost Rs 20,000 crore, but there are no funds for it yet

Does cost justify benefit?

An important principle of prudent project management is the practice of frugality. Independent India has often practised this to a fault. Fiscal control and audit systems are deeply embedded in our governance psyche, yet this major project of the Modi government abandons their imperatives.

The purpose-built building for the Ministry of External Affairs, completed in 2010, will be demolished and it will now function from one of the square doughnuts. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) building, completed in 2002, will also be demolished and rebuilt at another site, to make way for three square doughnuts. The National Museum will be torn down and its collection rehoused in North and South Blocks. Vigyan Bhawan will be demolished and rebuilt at another site — all this to make place for the construction of more doughnuts. A new Prime Minister’s residence and office complex will replace the 7 Lok Kalyan Marg complex that was only recently refurbished at great cost to serve as a permanent residence for Prime Minister Modi.

Where are the cost-benefit analyses to support these extravagant decisions?

Also read: Parliament to Kashi Vishwanath: Why Modi always hires architect Bimal Patel for pet projects

A new distancing formula

In addition to these shortcomings, the Modi government’s grand project also overlooks one of the most important urban design characteristics of Central Vista, which is that after Independence, this imperial symbol was transformed into a democratic public place.

While the trees, water channels and lawns of Central Vista are proposed to be retained, the ten square doughnut-shaped office towers flanking it will accommodate important government offices. It will inevitably be turned into a gated security zone like the plaza between North and South Blocks and the C-Hexagon, thus restricting its use and depriving thousands of local citizens of a popular leisure area.

At a time when India is confronting serious economic problems, reinforced by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the clamour to suspend such profligacy is certainly justified, not only in economic terms but on moral and ethical grounds as well. But from an architectural and urban design perspective, should the Rs 20,000 crore, which the Central Vista revamp project is estimated to cost, be squandered to commit urban harakiri and make a banal lifestyle statement? No, the plan should be scrapped.

The author is an architect, urban planner, conservation consultant and academic. He has undertaken pioneering conservation projects in several historic cities including Varanasi and Delhi. Views are personal.

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  1. Bhakts will be bhakts. The moment they see Sonia Gandhi’s name, anything that is associated with it becomes anathema.

    We must see the merits of the article and see nothing wrong in reevaluating the Project from urban planning and environment point of view

  2. I as a common man want that area to be a tourist spot , as today or much more than that. There should be ample space to spend evenings, to visit India gate . Dont make it a high security zone, where we will not be allowed.

  3. As per the attached picture , i don’t see any space near the India gate . Now India gate is a tourist spot as well as people gather there for any event . And the vast space on the sides of Rajpath is the best place to spend evening with family . Without all this , what is this for . After making the government offices there , normal citizens will not be allowed there. Also where will they conduct the Republic day parade ?

  4. A revamp, nay an overhaul, will be a good idea. Too many silly-looking buildings there, starting with the monstrosity that is the parliament.

  5. If Sonia is opposing it, that is reason enough for India to embrace it. You can take it to the bank that anything that Sonia says and does is anti- India or anti- national.

  6. Difficult for Gandhis and their coterie to leave the multi trillion dollor business that is India. They will do it at any cost, even if its sleeping with the enemies. Who ever is opposing this is directly or indirectly linked with Gandhis.

  7. for the last thirty years I have been regularly visiting Iconic Parliament building built during colonial power. till today, it housed 545 Mps in Loksabha and 245 Mps in Rajya Sabha. by 2026, the Indian Parliament /Legislatures across the country is going to be reorganised proportionate to the burgeoning population, as a result of which, another 400 Mps are likely to be added to the existing strength in Loksabha and 120 Mps in Rajya Sabha. With the increase in strength of Mps, it is humangously difficult to accommodate the rising nos in Mps in the existing building. Hence, it is sine qua non to implement and executive Central Vistas whatever may be the budget. a new central vistas with state of the infrastructure is the dire need for a modern India. I welcome wholeheartedly welcome this ambitious project. India is capable of addressing and reddressing any pandemic with its already established medical infrastructure. COVID is nothing to do with Central Vistas.

  8. We need more of this beautifully planned and designed structures. If you want internal tourism in INDIA than it is imperative that places like this are created all over INDIA. So families can visit and enjoy this stress blisters . You be party to poverty tourism along with your MADAM. Also good luck with shaheen baag tourism

  9. This article would perfectly fit for print in Congress Sandesh, not in Print….afterall it’s still some distance from the Congress mouthpiece!

    Author seems to be waiting for an opportune time like covid scare to sell his wares…when he could not for so long. As someone pointed out it could be a case of sour grapes.

  10. You the print, we all Indians know that how negative propaganda is Run through your this’s shamefull that your hatered towards Modi and BJP govt has increased so much that you are writing and publishing everything that can defame/negate govt work.But you bastrads be assured that we common people of India are well awared who is right and who are wrong..Jai Hind!!

  11. What if we name it as ‘Rajiv Gandhi Central Vista’ !! Then that will be real development !! Or should we name this ‘Rahul Gandhi Central Vista’ ??!

  12. Nice to see so many Bhakts coming to defend Gobiji’s plans. what does he care anyway for the poor? as long as his megalomania is satisfied, nothing else matters.

  13. Hard to believe, that the article was written by an Architect…All along I thought some 5th grader has written .

    Sum of 20,000 Cr was mentioned. Im sure, if we add up the amount spent to maintain the lavish lifestyle of just 1 blue bloded G family, it’ll exceed the 20 k Cr !!

    Make way for New Grand India.

  14. Like this all the Indians wants the Congress and its chief to deposit into public exchequer the looted public money from Bofors, National Herald, Coal allocation, 2G scam etc money etc etc. This will be enough to buy the required medical aid kits to our India and other needy countries. Will she do it now?

    • It’s not about criticise about Modi or supporting Modi.Think rationally it is time to invest 20000 crore for the construction that is already existing when country economy is under deep slowdown and leads to recession due to covid 19.Every thinking from religious line is not good .Blindly criticising govt and blindly criticising opposition is not good .

  15. Delhi was never built to accomodate 3 crore people which presently populate Delhi. Neither did Lutyen planned and made Central Vista for all centuries to come.

    While we may question the design and the designer selected for the redevelopment of Central Vista, fact is that Central Vista is wholly inadequate for present requirement of the Government of India and therefore the Prime Minister Modi is absolutely right in proposing this ambitious redevelopment of the Central Vista.

    Armchair critics of the proposed redevelopment of Central Vista must visit New Delhi to understand the inadequate and disproportionate utilisation of this space as of today and perhaps only then will understand that this proposed redevelopment of Central Vista is not only required to be undertaken but must be undertaken now.

  16. Don’t run around with such baseless writer. Everytime I open my Google News at UAE there is always negative about Modi even If he says light a candle there will be picture of fire crackers..

  17. It makes perfect sense to revamp the colonial era structures to make them look native, and more fitted to the age of internet.

  18. Every ruler wants his imprint. A megalomaniac like Modi wants an imprint by going at the heart of Delhi which is the Lutyens architecture. And don’t expect it to be eye pleasing. It will only be spectacular like the Vallabhai statue. And let’s not talk about costs. Anything goes for the leader.

    • Yes. Every ruler wants an imprint. The first PM with his scientific temper and obsession with European models concentrated filth and squalour in urban centres. Dharavi in Mumbai is Jawaharuddin’s magnum opus for our finance capital. Decadence in every segment is his contribution. The IIT s and IIMs that he set up! And, we import rail bogies from a small country like Korea. The list of our imports id baffling. It is to Nehru, Indira, Rajiv and Sonia credit that we import domestic items from China. We can write a voluminous book on the contribution of these four rulers and their print on India….its institutions and individuals.
      Later his daughter endorsed corruption and ensured its proliferation to grassroots. The pilot in a hurry popularised the cell phone. Nothing else. Sonia imprinted SG … Scams Galore!!!

    • A leader who’s making citizens under starvation one and another form of lost vision should be scrapped. First see the poor hungry Indians then talk about a Name print do realize the facts

    • As a liberal i can say that Modi is not even close to being a megalomaniac like gandhi’s who have built their statutes in almost every city in india, named all the buildings, airports, universities and hospitals after themselves. If someone comes up with a new plan, criticise and give some alternatives but to call someone megalomaniac because they are trying to revamp the old infrastructure is plain dumbassery. And by the way Heart of Delhi is Red Fort and Chandni Chowk not lutyens delhi.
      I never was in favour of Statue of Unity for its cost but it is an architectural wonder and beautifully constructed. Seems like you are one of those who suffer from Modi Derangement syndrome.

      • I dont see a sonia or rahul statue. Just because someone built a statue of a PM after his death to commemorate him doesnt make him a megalomaniac like modi

  19. The author has very clearly written that, ” …….. Modi’s grand Central Vista project in New Delhi has coalesced around the view that it should be suspended, and the budget re-allocated for more pressing and urgent health requirements” This should make it clear to anybody that the amount is budgeted! Also the it is gazetted. “When all resources must be mopped up to meet this COVID-19 challenge a Gazette notification is issued for the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project.” So what is your problem? The matter is also discussed and opposed i the parliament. Are you saying that Modi’s ruling BJP discusses something in the parliament that doesn’t even exists, wasting time during this COVID-19 pandemic? YOU ARE SO IGNORANT, YOU ARE SAYING “Something that is not happening”, WHEN IT IS HAPPENING FULL BLAST!

  20. Print is a respected site to read, what I am reading is a political response to an urban planning project, given that the writer is an architect, I am wondering why buildings dated 100 years back should not be demolished to move into modern structures. Is this guy living in the same house his grandfather built 100 years back.

    • How old is white house? How oldbis Buckingham Palace… Did you comment after a serious thought or simply comment to defend the emperor as bhakts generally do!

    • In the name of modernity should we demolish our iconic architetural marvels dotted all over delhi and that too just to quench the thirst of a maveric megalomaniac. absolutely sensless project and sheer waste of public money

  21. All her five points were bs. It is like one woman says, I have cut off my husbands budget. Other woman retaliates that I will cut of my husbands budget twice than you. Sufferers are poor husbands. In the same manner, Sonia Gandhi was unhappy about 30% reduction in her and tell Modi should not travel abroad. Tit for tat. She lost her senses and now this writer comes with another theory.

  22. Irrespective of the budget figures and wishes of anyone, this remaking will destroy the beautiful colonial-era architecture. Of course, do we expect the mercantile BJP of Modi and Amit Shah to have good taste and judgement?

    • We are tired of what Gandhi family wants
      If this project has given Gandhi or non Hindu name then it will be ok
      Isn’t it ?

  23. …And where did you get this figure of 20000 cr. Please share your source of information.
    Any govt document indicating the approximate cost or an allocation in any budget papers.

    So none of the money 20000 cr is going to this plan. Please don’t be naive and write articles on
    Something that is not happening.

    You write “ At a time when India is confronting serious economic problems, reinforced by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the clamour to suspend such profligacy is certainly justified, not only in economic terms but on moral and ethical grounds as well. But from an architectural and urban design perspective, should the Rs 20,000 crore, which the Central Vista revamp project is estimated to cost, be squandered to commit urban harakiri and make a banal lifestyle statement? No, the plan should be scrapped.”

    None of this that you have written is happening.
    Since there are no funds allotted and no estimate on any official document that says 20000 cr is the approximate cost.
    So please don’t get swayed by media reports.

    Dive in to do some research and you will find that Mrs Gandhi like you, has Also gone by media reports. Sad

    • The Central Vista is what Modi needs for his watsapp election campaign for 2024!!

      It’s everything that symbolises the man.. ask not what the government will give up for you.. but what you will give up for the ‘national interest.’ Stand in queue for Your own money.. walk a few thousands kms because the govt didn’t see the obvious coming.. your right to ask for protective great when you’re on the battle frontlines.. in the realm of all you sacrifice, what’s public space?! As far as Modi is concerned, it never belonged to you anyway!!

      In good times, this waste of public money is bad enough.. in these times of the virus, it’s a crime.

      For once, Modi must sacrifice his ego for the nation!! Thoda commute kar lo, jaisa hum sab karte!!

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