The Latest Developments at The Lutyens Bungalow Zone, New Delhi

By AG Krishna Menon, Chief Consultant, INTACH Delhi Chapter

The Report 2016-2017 stated that the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan I (CCMP I), pertaining to the Rashtrapati Bhawan Estate, and the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan II (CCMP II), pertaining to the main building of Rashtrapati Bhawan and the appurtenant Mughal Gardens, had been submitted by the INTACH Delhi Chapter and were duly accepted for implementation by the President’s Secretariat. Work on selected projects has been taken up in a phased manner and several are in progress. The CCMP II had proposed to relocate all the major utilities currently located in the basement of Rashtrapati Bhawan to a separate building and upgrade the internal service lines. This will be undertaken by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) and detailed engineering design is in progress.

Another major retrofitting work identified in CCMP II that is in progress is the rehabilitation of the chajja, which were discovered to be constructed in reinforced lime concrete and were showing signs of spalling, resulting in chunks of concrete falling off. The analysis and remedial measures have been submitted by the conservation engineering department of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and trial sample work as per their recommendation is underway.

A major issue of concern emerged in September 2019, out of the blue, which was a proposal to “Revamp the Central Vista”. The first one heard of it was when a Bid Document inviting consultants to submit proposals was published in the newspaper. On reading the document, it turned out to be a massive proposal to relocate all Central Government offices to new buildings along Central Vista, replace the office buildings built after Independence, construct a new Parliament building at a new site to be identified and convert the emptied North and South Blocks and the Parliament Building, which are acknowledged heritage buildings, into museums. The proposal also included the upgrading of the landscape areas of Central Vista. The fate of other important buildings along Central Vista, such as the National Archives, the National Museum, the new building of the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs and the palaces built around the C-Hexagon is still not clear. The bidding process is complete and the project has been awarded to HCP Consultants, an Ahmedabad-based firm known to be very close to the Prime Minister. The entire project is proposed to be completed by 2022, before the next Parliamentary elections.

The proposal is being implemented at a furious pace, far outpacing any reactions the concerned public are trying to formulate. The Minister of Urban Development, whose Ministry is spearheading the project, has assured people that there would be a “wide public consultation”, but it is not clear when and at what stage of the design process this will take place. In the meantime, three professional institutions — the Institute of Urban Designers India (IUDI), the Indian Society of Landscape Architects (ISOLA) and INTACH Delhi Chapter — have drafted a note identifying their concerns regarding the hasty timeline to revamp this iconic public space, which has been submitted to the Minister and the designated Consultant. Their response is awaited.

A group of architects have also drafted a separate note expressing their professional concerns, including the complete lack of transparency and bypassing the due processes of undertaking base-line studies that such massive redevelopment projects in a sensitive heritage area warrant.

That is the status of the project as far as we know, but the government and consultant may, in the meantime, be making rapid progress to fulfil their stated timeline for completing the project.