Biggest Challenge Yet for the Lutyens Trust

New Delhi amongst the World’s Most Endangered Sites

“How would you feel if you got up one morning and found the India Gate in the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone is dwarfed by high rises and the majestic Rajpath sandwiched by ‘concrete monsters’. Or the zone’s existing gracious vistas, manicured gardens and tree-lined avenue are replaced by buildings…Well, if real estate builders have their way they would take no time to turn this part of Delhi, a two per cent of the entire city, into an urban nightmare.”

These words were part of the headline story of the Indian newspaper The Asian Age which appeared last November, as the inclusion of the Lutyens Bungalow Zone of New Delhi in the World Monuments Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World was announced in London, New Delhi and New York. The Hindu India’s national newspaper has a much more dramatic headline – under the banner “DELHI/CRIMINALS AT LARGE” the paper’s contributor Sandeep Joshi wrote a powerful article condemning the “monumental blunder – monumental murder” of Lutyens’s Delhi. In his view, it is a combination of government and property developers who have branded the 2,800 hectares of the Bungalow Zone as “spawling, space-consuming and beyond repair”. Already some three hundred bungalows have been demolished. New Delhi’s plan did create a spacious garden filled heart at the very centre of things it is almost understandable that they would want to build high rises at the hub where there appears to be plenty of space.

The World Monuments Fund is an international private conservation organization and the purpose of its biennial Watch List is two-fold; to draw international attention to the endangered sites and to help with the raising of funds for preservation. The 2002 Watch List was selected by a completely independent panel of ten distinguished figures from the world of international conservation. They include representatives of UNESCO, the Getty Conservation Institute, Patrimoine sans Frontieres. ICOMOS, and major universities. For the 2002 Watch List they chose six sites in India including a medieval temple complex in Ahmedabad, a fortress in Ladakh, rural Hindu architecture in Karnataka, and the former British residency in Hyderabad – now the Osmania Women’s College. The panel felt strongly about the need to publicise the threat to the heart of New Delhi and they were impressed by the support for action from the two nominees of the site to the Watch – Mr. Nanda. The Lutyens Trust also lent their crucial support to the nomination. As Director of the World Monuments Fund in Britain, I feel strongly that the pressure to conserve New Delhi must come from India with the help of outside bodies. “There are political and economic factors that need to be carefully understood but it is the remarkable quality of New Delhi, the finest planned city of the interwar years that needs to be appreciated.” The World Monuments Fund hopes to see a conservation plan drawn up for the entire area and appropriate legislation to protect the special qualities of the Indian capital. Like the beautifully planned cities of Washington DC and Canberra, New Delhi deserves special protected status and a Commission to monitor any changes and developments that affect the plan. To achieve this must be the aim of the Lutyens Trust – which was founded “to protect the spirit and substance” of the work of the greatest architect of the twentieth century.

Colin Amery