The overnight transformation of Nehru-Gandhi parivar bhakts into Lutyens’ bhakts is quite intriguing. Their opposition to the Central Vista Project on the facile grounds that many ‘heritage’ buildings in the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone (LBZ) are being destroyed is totally misplaced.
The Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone that houses government offices including Rashtrapati Bhavan was developed by Edward Lutyens over a decade in 1921-31.
Lutyens, a lesser-known architect in London, became famous in India because of the opportunity to build a few important structures like the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House, India Gate and North and South Blocks in Delhi. Contrary to the Opposition’s propaganda, none of these heritage structures is being demolished under the Central Vista project.
Historical records suggest that all other buildings in the LBZ were built with a paucity of time and resources and do not carry any real heritage value. Renowned hotelier and architectural restorer Aman Nath described the buildings in LBZ as a “design compromise” to “overcome a diminished budget and yet cover the maximum land area.”
Incidentally, it was during the UPA 2 government in 2012 that the proposal for constructing a new Parliament House was envisaged initially.
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had recommended constituting a high-powered committee to suggest an alternative complex for the Parliament citing increased footfall, insufficient space and challenges of structural stability as the reasons.
Those concerns were genuine. The present Parliament was built in 1921-27 to host the Imperial Legislative Council and Central Legislative Assembly during British rule.
The Constituent Assembly had held its meetings in it during 1946-49. The building has been serving as the Parliament House since 1950, housing both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. India’s population and political activity have grown manifold in the last seven decades. After the delimitation in 2026, a substantial increase in the strength of both Houses is also anticipated. The present structure will thus be insufficient to cater to the growing needs of the Indian democracy.
The other bungalows in the LBZ have also become grossly inadequate for the functioning of government ministries. Successive regimes, including those of the Congress, had to make many structural modifications to them prompting the London-based Lutyens’ Trust to rush to Delhi in 2008 to discuss their preservation. Currently, 39 out of 51 ministries are partly or fully housed in the LBZ area. Many ministries have rented office spaces outside the area incurring annual expenditure of over Rs 1,000 crore.
These factors led PM Modi to set the ball in motion for the construction of the Central Vista project in 2019. It involves construction of a new People’s Parliament, a Central Vista from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan, a new complex for the Vice President and a new house for the PM.
First part of the five-year project, which includes a new Parliament building and the new Central Vista, is expected to be completed by 2022 when India celebrates 75 years of its independence. It will naturally be a matter of pride for every Indian.
The government has put criticism to rest by assuring that all the significant heritage and cultural artefacts, presently housed at the National Museum, National Archives and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), will be carefully preserved. The National Museum will be relocated to the North and South Blocks, and is expected to have 3.5 times more space —–from the current 25,500 sqm to approximately 80,000 sqm.
The entire Central Vista project is expected to be completed by 2024. Necessary budgetary allocation for the project cost of about Rs 13,500 crore has been made in 2019 itself. That brings annual expenditure to just around Rs 2,700 crore. No additional spending is happening beyond the previously sanctioned budget. Covid relief activity is not getting hampered in any way.
The government has already allocated over Rs 35,000 crore for the vaccination drive in the country. Construction projects have been exempted from Covid restrictions in all states. In fact, many major infrastructure projects have been in progress in the country. The cash-starved Maharashtra government has issued tenders for a 900-crore redevelopment of the MLA hostel at Nariman Point in Mumbai recently.
The Chhattisgarh government stalled construction work of the new Raj Bhavan, Assembly and CM House only after BJP president J P Nadda pointed out the duplicity of the Congress few days ago.
Congress’ opposition to the project appears more about legacy than about the pandemic. Having named hundreds of institutions after one family, they seem worried that the Nehru-Gandhi legacy of institution-building was being usurped by Modi’s men. They are ridiculing the new PM House as ‘Modi ka ghar’. But it was they who slyly converted the actual PM House at Teen Murti into the Nehru Memorial Museum after Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise in 1964.
The new Central Vista is not going to be the legacy of any individual or party. It is the need of the hour and a matter of pride for an Atma Nirbhar nation.
(The article was originally published in Times of India on May 28, 2021. Views expressed are personal.)