The three KM stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Lutyens' Delhi that houses pillars of Indian democracy like Parliament is soon going to get a mega makeover,
Very soon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political ego and vision is going to leave a lasting imprint on the seat of the country's power in the heart of the national capital. The British-era Central Vista - over three-km stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Lutyens' Delhi that houses pillars of Indian democracy like Parliament – is going to get a mega makeover that will carry the message of the symbolic march towards creation of a New India.
Much like his mission and vision for giving shape to the world's tallest statue – 182-metre-high Statue of Unity of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat's Kevadia – the Prime Minister's vision for taking Delhi several notches up in the table of world class capitals evokes confidence that with the redevelopment plan he would deliver a perfect blend of modernity with heritage.
The construction work on the government's mega plan to redevelop the Parliament Building, Central Vista and a composite complex for various ministries may begin by next year and, in all probability, the monsoon session of Parliament in 2022 may be held in either a refurbished Parliament or an altogether new building close to the existing circular sand stone structure built by the British.
The rejuvenation plan reflects much more than what it appears to be on the surface. Modi's restlessness for doing more for the country is written all over the project which, interestingly, never took off during the tenures of previous governments that occupied the Raisina Hill. In the redevelopment blueprint lies the Prime Minister's ambition to create a legacy that can be remembered for all times to come.
The plan would require pulling down several building along the Rajpath – the road on which the Republic Day parade is taken out on January 26 every year. While some of the British-era structures may be converted into museums, others which were hurriedly built during the initial years of the independent India to house ministries are likely to be razed.
Government office complexes like Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan, Rail Bhawan and Krishi Bhawan which house over a dozen government ministries are likely to make way for new structures to house the central secretariat.
Interestingly, during the Budget Session of Parliament earlier this year, both Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu and Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla had also voiced concern over the space constraints in Parliament and asked the Modi government to consider building a modern Parliament house.
The spacious the Central Vista in New Delhi was designed British architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker. It is home to iconic buildings like the Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament, North and South Block and India Gate among others. The buildings were constructed between 1911-1931. During imperial times, the work for constructing the iconic buildings on Raisina Hill started when the British India's capital shifted from Calcutta to Delhi in December 1911. Construction of Parliament House began in 1921 and Viceroy Lord Irwin inaugurated it in 1927. He had inaugurated the capital of New Delhi in 1931, by which time the buildings on Raisina Hill were completed.
But over the years, Delhi Darbar's heritage buildings and office complexes have struggled to offer enough space for 70,000 government employees working there and incorporating modern safety facilities like fire and earth-quake resistance.
While Congress leaders have privately criticised the proposal as a brazen attempt to tinker with the historical identity of the core of the city, some architects and town planners have advised caution and public consensus on the issue.
A reason for the muted response of the Congress is the fact that the idea of redeveloping the core of Lutyens' Delhi originated during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s tenure in 2012. Then urban development minister Kamal Nath had submitted a report to the Lok Sabha Secretariat but having failed to take the project forward, the Congress now sees Modi as hijacking its redevelopment plan.
Sounding caution, a town planner said, “Instead of being driven by the target of completing the project before 2022, the focus should be more on details. Unnecessary haste may create complications in a bid to create modern heritage.”
Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that the government has set July 2022 deadline for the Parliament building; March 2024 deadline for buildings in common central secretariat and November 2020 for upgrading the Central Vista.
Good governance, transparency, and equity - the hallmarks of aspirations of a New India are expected to be reflected in the new Central Vista. Despite its modern outlook, it is likely to be rooted in the Indian culture and social milieu.
The BJP government's move to give a new touch to the heart of Delhi is bound to evoke suspicion among political opponents, especially after Modi used the term “Khan Market gang” in a jibe to mock his political adversaries and English-speaking elite.
The redevelopment plan also carries a strong reflection of an attempt by Modi, who takes pride in his humble beginnings as the son of a tea seller in Gujarat and identifies himself as the common man's PM, to send a subtle message to the political class that it is he who calls the shots now in Lutyens' Delhi.
The bottomline of the whole redevelopment plan, however, remains austerity. Modi is aware of the annual Rs 1,000 crore rent that the Central government pays to owners of private buildings which are being used to run Union government's offices. By redeveloping the central government office complex to create more office space, the PM is also looking to save money of the honest tax payer.
By 2024, when the next Lok Sabha elections would be held, it is expected that Modi would be able to address MPs in a new Parliament building. The PM, probably, is also looking forward to joining President Ram Nath Kovind in the 2024 Republic Day celebrations on Rajpath that, by then, would have got a new, modern skyline befitting the country's growing global economic muscles.
The National Capital's power skyline is all set for a makeover – one that will reflect the soaring ambition of Modi and a country that has managed to touch the moon surface for the second time in less than a decade under its Chandrayan mission.
With his dream project, Modi will also be able to enhance his image as a visionary of modern India. His aim to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024 also encapsulates the dream of a lively capital city with an architecture reflecting its world-class and modern heritage, besides respecting its complex cultural legacy.