Redevelopment of Lutyen’s zone planned as a façade of development

The project to redesign Rajpath and everything in its vicinity is in fact the continuation of a process of erasure from public memory of all associations that pre-date the Master’s rise to power

Illustration by: Sparsh Dhaharwal
Illustration by: Sparsh Dhaharwal

Sohail Hashmi

The project to rebuild and redesign Rajpath and everything in its vicinity is in fact the continuation of a process of erasure from public memory of all associations that pre-date the Master’s rise to power.

The year 2024 has been chosen for completion of the project because the master enters the 75th year of his journey on this earth and it is this year that will herald the arrival of the smart city of Delhi. There is a second reason for picking 2024 and should be ‘as clear as mud’ to everyone, this is the year when the present dispensation hopes to be given another five-year mandate.

It is interesting to see how everything that happens in this country has now to be tied to a date or a year or an anniversary connected to little blurbs in the life of the Master. It has been suggested that the landing on the dark-side of the moon had to coincide with the completion of 100 days and because the landing did not go as planned, the speech containing the ominous phrase that ‘this is only a trailer and the full film still remains’ (Film abhi baaki hai) had to be delivered elsewhere.

Among the first structures to be dismantled inside the Pragati Maidan in Delhi by this government was the permanent Nehru pavilion and now the Nehru Memorial Museum is being converted into a museum for all prime ministers.

The arguments that have been put together for this suggested overhaul are as specious as are the histories that are being spun on a daily basis. The idea that new buildings will create a new India is as hollow as the claim that nothing happened in the last 70 years and everything that India has achieved has been a product of the last five years.

It has been said that the Parliament House has outlived its utility and more space is required for members. It has also been said that it is an old building. But do these gentlemen actually know the meaning of old?

The British Parliament functions from a complex of buildings that go back to the 13th century or even earlier, the present building was completed in 1870. The building that houses the National Assembly of France was completed in 1728. The House of Representatives and the Senate have been meeting at the Capitol from 1859 while our Sansad Bhawan was inaugurated in 1927, barely 92 years ago.

It has been said that the cramped quarters of the North and South block, the central secretariat complex and the scattered ministries of Industries, Agriculture, MHRD, Railways, Housing and estates, etc will give way to a mega complex that would house 70,000 central government employees under one roof.

Can you imagine a bigger fiasco than this, at a time when there is need and demand for decentralisation of power, we are coming up with an idea where everything is sought to be centralised. Everything needs to be under the thumbs of the one Master.

We have refused to learn anything from the fiasco of East Kidwai Nagar (New Delhi), where thousands of residential units, hundreds of offices and shops have all been thrown together with no space for parking and for traffic movement. The place has abysmally inadequate provisions for supply of water and for drainage and the courts have had to intervene to stop allotments before these arrangements are made

The scheme to remodel Rajpath and its surroundings is an invitation to disaster, it is an assault on buildings that have iconic status as places where parliamentary democracy took its first steps in India and would soon acquire the status of heritage structures.

The question one should be asking those who have floated this idea is ‘Where is the need and what are your priorities?

A country that has soaring unemployment, nose diving GDP, millions of undernourished and out of school children, needs to spend in areas that help alleviate the sufferings of the deprived instead of spending thousands of crores in an essentially anti-democratic act, aimed centralisation of all power in one hand.

India is in the grip of economic crises that has gone so deep that even those who have mastered the art of statistical jugglery and whose political training includes, above everything, the art of being blatantly miserly with the truth, have now fallen on the tried and tested method of constructing a gigantic façade of development, through frenzied building activity.

The author conducts heritage walks in Delhi and writes on culture, history and languages.

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Published: 20 Sep 2019, 7:00 AM