Open Letter on Heritage & Community Perspectives on (Rajpath) Central Vista Avenue, New Delhi, to the Central Public Works Department, CPWD, New Delhi:
Observations and Suggestions from master students of Sustainable Architecture (Heritage and Community Perspectives) at Central University of Rajasthan, with course coordinator Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava on the proposed Re/development of (Rajpath) Central Vista Avenue project in New Delhi*
We are a group of students from Central University of Rajasthan, pursuing our Masters in Sustainable Architecture where in First semester we are learning about Heritage and Community Perspectives taught by Prof. dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava. It is because of the alignment of the course and the nature of the Rajpath Central Vista Avenue project we are motivated to submit our observations and suggestions on the re/development plan as invited by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD). The public attention on the re/development plan of the Central Vista area may be broadly divided into phases, when the idea was initiated as project, then the bidding for project design and management, and now approvals for the project implementation. The latter is the focus here since the CPWD has invited (via Chief Architect, Delhi Region) objections and suggestions for the plan of Re/development of Central Vista Avenue. To note here is that the Central Vista Avenue is located at a site listed as Grade-1 Heritage Precincts and comes under the Unified Building Byelaws 2016.
Here are some responses from the signatories of this letter:
1. Shall we aim towards New India that is equivalent to a developed & a democratic nation, then we must also go for maximum governance & minimum government approach. This, when manifested in the building architecture and planning refers to a public place open for all. Instead, the existing public realm of the Rajpath is planned to be taken over by a high security zone of governmental building. While the world is reclaiming public spaces for people, we cannot be losing them. We find across the country including Delhi that the government/public premises are heavily guarded with a no-go area, thus challenging the very essence of considering a government for the people, by the people and of the people. Buildings may require security because of the national high value documents, but why do our politicians need so much of area to work and then protection from its own people everywhere including their living areas. Please note that the developed nation leaders live not exclusively but inclusively so do they work. The idea of a concentrated area of administration seems fallible besides fostering power.
The issue of security from external forces when powerhouse will be at one place must be discussed. The governance of fear for people internally in the country is also concerning. Besides, the social injustices to the populace in the governance issue, the project also alarms environmental injustice. Most of the points made below by my students highlight the various issues that could have been addressed if pre-evaluation that is an Environmental Impact Assessment of the Central Vista Avenue was carried out properly and that document was made available in the public domain. There are issues of local biodiversity, pollution, transportation, water, construction materials & techniques, building wastes, swachchta, and many more that are raised by my students. Professionals and concerned citizens have also been publicly voicing their apprehensions about the social, cultural, ecological and financial impacts of a project in the heart of New Delhi. The continuing contradictions of the government and its representatives only reinforce the fact that this is a project planned in haste without substantial public participation and thought to the far-reaching consequences of such a major change to the built environment in a sensitive area. – Mansee Bal Bhargava, Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
2. Making changes based on needs is a very natural thing however it is crucial to set the culmination of changes. Talking about the new Parliament Building, as the Responsible Authorities have said, all this is done to make the facilities of the Parliament modern and efficient. Apart from this, more facilities will be added such as Common Central Secretariat, MP’s Offices, Prime Minister’s Office and Home etc. These new changes reflect the optimistic thinking of India and to some extent it holds true as long as the project meets environmental sustainability standards. The problem is why all this in Delhi itself? Since Delhi remains among the most polluted cities in the world, where the air quality index often crosses 500. In this situation, the construction of this scale and the land use does not give a good message by the Government when it is talking about reducing pollution and saving the environment. We should think about making better use of the existing spaces by making them more efficient and the demand for new construction should be amended to reflect the awareness and sensitivity for our environment. We may also consider distribution of the governance centers to various cities/coordinates across India, so that the one city does not bear the burden of densification and pollution. – Arpit Kumawat, Kishangarh City, Rajasthan.
3. I would like to bring the environmental concern for such a huge project, Central Vista redevelopment in the heart of the country by overriding the master plan and existing heritage. The air pollution level is hovering around the low-quality index as recorded by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) at Delhi. As per the modifications proposed by the Delhi Development Authority creates a loss of at least 80 Acres of land from the public use. Besides, more than 15 Acres of land is lost from the recreational spaces. The new plan is concerning to impact the existing environment as well as the urban fabric. Further the importance of an existing heritage seems to be weakened at some point in the present scenario. The existing parliament depicts a context of our history and sprint of an independent nation. The architecture of the existing parliament building is an amalgamation of traditional Indian architecture with an exotic style. The parliament had witnessed several historical moments, including Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ and B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘Grammar of Anarchy’ speech became an orientation point in Indian Democracy and Indian Constitution. Thus, the parliament as a heritage has an outstanding importance in the formation of our new India. It is our obligation to preserve the entire building as well as to maintain its premises in its original form by acknowledging its heritage importance. – Hafiz Ali Shanavas, Kollam, Kerala.
4. The Central Vista Project is proposed to represent the new India, by alteration of land use, without taking grants for construction from several bodies, no public opinion, etc. How are they gonna compensate for the use of land, which was classified as transportation, parking under Master Plan 2021 and recreational or neighborhood area under the zonal development plan? (Even this Master Plan, Zonal Plan is made after lot of inputs). To attain the need, how can they go beyond this? During the pandemic we observed that our earth is healing, and as above Hafiz mentioned that the air pollution level is hovering around the low-quality index at Delhi. So, this huge project again leads to rupturing the environment. – Somnath Acharjee, Kolkata, West Bengal.
5. It is a moral duty to look for the environmental perspective first for any new project which I may or may not be involved with. The Vista project will have adverse effects on the environment for instance, a loss of unbuilt space, a greater carbon footprint in and during the construction and maintenance process of the proposed built structure. At the same time, I would advocate in favor of the proposed central vista project. Unlike many projects in the country which ‘were not actually much required’ and perhaps not an appropriate use of the funds, the central vista project is, in my opinion, a plausible requirement for the time coming. As we all know the existing parliament building was not actually proposed to be a parliament building by the Britishers, it can be said that it was an adaptive reuse by the Independent India. In essence there was never a dedicated parliament structure for the government to use. The building has seen and tested its fair share of time for a century now. Compared to then population and requirements of the building, it has only seen a constant rise, and may even continue to do so. Hence, a new parliament building, or addition is inevitable. But for the sake of the environment and carbon footprint, everything that goes on from now must be well thought of, prepared, managed and in accordance with the nature, environment and the public to use. These new proposed structures may/will give a new identity to the corridor, which obviously can be blended in with what we have already. The new project is supposed to provide a more efficient and well-built corridor for public to use. As all the government offices/services will be made available near to each other, and which is accessible by public transport (metro) to Delhi, Noida and Faridabad. All the government buildings which will be shifted here may be adaptively reused for other purposes. The new Central Vista project if made in accordance with sustainability may prove to be an example of heritage and sustainable building for the new India. But for that the project needs to hit the ground but in accordance with all the reasons that we think it should not be executed. – Qumit Singh, Jaipur, Rajasthan.
6. The “Redeveloping, The Parliament complex as 3km long stretch Central Vista” by revamping of the old buildings, the design will represent India as a significance of culture and heritage, the wisdom of our people at a global level. For now, there is no denying that the old buildings need redevelopment as they are old but at 20,000 Crore, retrofitting is debatable on two aspects, one being Heritage and other Economy, at this time of COVID-19 affected India. The power corridor is an iconic part of our democracy, the change in its land-use like converting public spaces into government spaces without public participation is bothering. The environmental footprint of the aftermath of the project is bothering too. According to the government, “the aim of the Central vista is to renovate outdated infrastructure and inadequate space in parliament.” To achieve this goal other methods may be followed rather than putting the economy on a huge amount, like rebuilding the space of the building with its furniture or civil construction to be environmentally friendly and cost effective. We may be ambitious of our parliament building with the change in time but not at a cost that won’t benefit the generations to come. Either we can build something that compensates the stipulated losses and bring out a building that is curated from tradition of India and is green and futuristic, or we may try other development projects that are more priority than this. – Monica Tewari, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
7. Lutyen’s Delhi has maintained a distinctive architectural heritage and urban character. The new Central Vista even though is to some extent an essential requirement, it needs to be constructed keeping in mind that the new buildings are in harmony with Lutyen’s Central Delhi and their importance is not diminished in the process. Respecting the existing heritage buildings and strengthening it rather than overpowering it. The existing landscape has a picturesque value, it is essential that nothing is carried out that may impair these qualities. Besides, careful assessment for other environmental factors like requirement for power, water, sewage disposal stresses need to be addressed for a project of this scale, as Delhi is already a water stressed city. A better systematic approach is required for the preservation of the existing flora and fauna. The haste to implement this project is a major concern because decades old trees will get translocated if not cut and the groundwater table is not the same in every place. Besides, these trees have historically been an integral part of Central Delhi. Public opinion and participation are important and should be considered for a project like this and all the proposals should be out in the open access for the people to assess. – Arsha Viswambharan, Bhopal, MP.
8. Yes, I accept that this Central Vista Project will reflect world-wide and will hold up the pride of our Nation. However, we must sort out and solve the issues which are causing conflicts. This is democratic country, and the decisions which consume huge tax money of each citizen should be reasonable and the deciding authorities are answerable to them. In this pandemic situation, each penny should be used wisely. As every citizen has analyzed it in this lockdown time, so should the deciding authorities of the government. It is acceptable that the available spaces and the buildings are not enough to accommodate as much as workers in it, but it is unacceptable that those buildings are not safe by means of structural. India is filled with structures which are older than 1000 years but saying a 50–100-year old building is unsafe even if most of the material used is stone, it is unreasonable. We must also consider the carbon emission from this project as Delhi is already highly polluted and what will happen if we pollute it more. Some of the justifications which demotes the present office building is that AC service line provided is looking bad according to aesthetics, interior is not seems to be like 21st century design, no proper streetlight, broken pavement, etc. The broken pavements can be repaired, proper streetlights can be given, also designs and materials are eventually upgrading. There will be always a good design which demotes every design, but it is not reasonable to change the entire infrastructure by stating that. If the building and interior is not looking like 21st century means, what about the farmers and economically weaker people in the country who are struggling to get good food for their daily needs. Everything in the central administrative area will happen as it is, even if this project comes or not. The country needs development in various fields and this huge funding can be helpful for those. In this pandemic situation, the problems that need to be solved are much more. Everything is needed, just that the priority matters. This huge money can be used for agricultural research, medical research, improving the employment opportunities for the people, urban and rural development to get more economic growth and shun poverty. It will provide a huge amount of tax money to the government, even if it may overflow, by which they can execute this Central Vista project and the authorities may walk on this road with honour. – Gokulakannan, Ramanathapuram, Tamilnadu.
9. The idea of New Delhi, the epicenter of the democratic rule in India as we know it today was conceived by the ‘British-Raj’ with an ideology of creating a garden city amidst the chaotic growth of Old Delhi. The very idea of planning of New Delhi was based on its avenues, boulevards, and parks within which the Brits created a place for their administration, ‘The Royal Precinct’ which housed Viceroy Palace, North block, South block and the Council’s house and this place is accepted as the place for the ‘Democratic-Raj’ quickly as India got independence. In 70 years, Delhi grew exponentially as a capital city; population grew manifolds, and buildings were built at an unimaginable pace but one thing which remained constant was the avenues and boulevards with lush green and exotic trees that purified air all this time, keeping the image of Delhi up. Now, after all these years of attachment of people’s sentiments with this place and all the unorganized planning practices, we felt the need to redevelop this area in terms of its usage of land as both public parks and the government’s workplaces. After looking at the proposed master plan of central vista, one thing is clear that the project is aimed at glamorizing and advertising of Indian government instead of it being a development of the needful. The public spaces on the side of the India gate are taken over by giving a bait of providing two new parks at either end of the new central vista spanning 6kms. How concentrating the Built spaces and dividing today’s actual usable open spaces is a project for the public and claims to be the new image of democratic India? Yes, it is a fact that we are short of land in today’s time and its judicious use should be done, but certain projects require a certain degree of thought. Anyways we are going to make new infrastructure and hence this might have been more easy, efficient, and logical if a new campus is planned somewhere else while dedicating the whole Central Vista to public use, which will support the everlasting pollution problems of Delhi. Why not oppose the law of re-densification of downtowns and speak of a more ‘Public Oriented-Raj’? – Garbhit, Indore, MP.
10. India is known for its culture and heritage worldwide. The beauty of this land lies in its history and understanding towards nature. We have been emotionally connected to our land and nature. This richness of culture is the main essence of our beautiful country. No doubt that with time we have to evolve as per our needs, but the importance of nature should never be sacrificed for any evolution. We should always think and plan in a way that reverberates with mother nature and if it is not happening then one should accept that the path taken is not right and is time for self-interrogation. Delhi being our capital and one of the most polluted cities of the world becomes a force of attraction for every environmental enthusiast when it comes to any huge project like Central Vista Avenue. The city is already suffering with awfully bad air quality and pollution at different levels, water, noise, etc. Instead of coming up with any project to manage these problems we are coming up with one more mega construction project which is not only using a huge amount of our tax (approx. 20,000 Crores) but will also cut down approximately 2000 trees. As we all know demolition and construction create a great impact on the environment and will provide adverse effects on the health of people. The city’s AQI is already toxic and this project will worsen it. Considering the government to work for the people of the country, it is extremely essential to be answerable and provide satisfactory reply to the communities of the society before it starts with such a huge project because at the end it is our country, our money and it’s our right to know where it is being invested. We are a developing nation. We have many sectors which need this capital, and those projects can help in the growth of our nation. Then, we suffered a lot during COVID-19 phase and realized that on how large scale we need to work on our medical infrastructure; we also saw the situation of migrant workers and their sufferings. We need to provide a better budget to our scientists if we want to grow, need to equip our soldiers to safeguard the country and the list is long. Instead of thinking about these areas and providing the needful capital to them we are forced to provide ‘beautiful infrastructure to our MPs’ who claim to suffer to work in their presently assigned offices. It makes me shattered to think that instead of working for the extremely essential sectors our focus has shifted toward providing world class infrastructure for politicians and our money is invested in degrading our nature to further extent. These existing buildings are live connection with our history. It speaks a lot about different eras and its historic value is high. Demolition of such historic buildings will only be a setback in our connection with glorious heritage. We as a country acknowledge the beautiful cultural background, so we rather not change it for the sake of modernism and so called ‘development’. We are already on the world map because of our mesmerizing architecture all over the country. The world appreciates it except us. It is high time when we as a country need to rethink the concept of development and importance of historic beauty. We must not build for the sake of development and geo-political pressures but need to better understand what development is since, it differs from place to place and person to person. – Bharti Upadhyay, Varanasi, UP.
11. To the best of my knowledge regarding Central Vista Project the fact of the matter is it is now a done deal and is going to go through. Interestingly, there was a dissenting judgement as well with a couple of observations made by two of the SC judges, one being can we question the government’s wisdom in focusing on a particular direction or development. Can we guide the government on moral and ethical matters without any legal basis that seems to suggest that the court really didn’t have very much to say on this issue on account of the ultimately it is the government that decides but the larger issue is whether it was the right thing to do? Should the government spend this much money or not? There are some specific questions and they have ruled on those questions about landuse change, environmental clearance, etc. but, the judgement was well thought out because what it says really what we have been shouting ourselves over the last one year. The concerned citizens (activists/ environmentalists/planners/architects) have expressed that a process must be followed. Just go back to the Heritage Conservation Committee which the government in its wisdom decided not to go. They are the people who had to clear the landuse change and clear permissions to scrutinize the application to figure out whether it is something wrong or right, what the government can or cannot do within the existing byelaws for the Central Vista and otherwise. India must move on for conservation and promotion of democracy in India which must be done in view of the increase in space and the strength of the parliament in the future. The large number of government offices spread all over the city costs about 1200 crores per annum on rent may come at play in one place. In fact, the proposed model is far beautiful than the existing chaotic buildings which are there in the sidelines of the Rajpath. So, hoping that beautiful structures will come out. – Gaurav Gautam Indwar, Patratu, Jharkhand.
12. The ideology behind this project may be considered on a positive note as per the central government guidelines, but with several happenings already going around in the country, this issue directly affects the architecture community. Although we understand that the government needs more space to operate out of, the sustainability aspects of this project are highly questionable. As most of the aspects have been discussed above and considering the scant information in the public domain about the building program, I shall present some factual data. If we look at the BURJ KHALIFA, it used 3,30,000 cumts. of concrete and 54,000 metric tons of steel, whereas the CENTRAL VISTA PROJECT is going to use 7,64,554 cumts. of concrete and 70,000 metric tons of steel. Just unimaginable, which in turn requires 416 sqkms. of trees to compensate for it. As per the government guidelines, stone mining is banned in most of the areas, to prevent environmental degradation however, this project will require 60,000 cumts. of stone for cladding. The data for other construction materials of superstructures (mainly brick) is still unknown. The project will require potable water equivalent to needed for 23,00,000 people, considering a built-up area of over 3,00,00,000 sqft. The project may also cause destruction of tree cover which may result in unrecoverable CARBON FOOTPRINT. Around 20,000 cars will access this area daily as per the transport planning norms. Impact of such a building program during construction would mean: 1000 trees to be cut to make way for the construction, 1000 trucks plying daily, and 20000 labour working on the project will need to be transported in and out daily for nearly 5 years. Above data may relate to the use of non-renewable fossil fuels, but the amount of air pollution levels during construction with the additional trucks and construction dust is not thought of yet. Now looking at the community perspectives, think of the impact on daily traffic in the NDMC area for 5 years from construction traffic and the diversions due to the general infrastructure upgrade. “JUST IMAGINE”! – Hemang Dave, Sirohi, Rajasthan.
13. I shall add a few points related to our Heritage besides agreeing to many of the above points. Delhi city is not just at risk of losing its History and Heritage, but also traditional knowledge which is key to promoting inclusiveness, sustainability, and resilience. Land is a scarce resource, but heritage is even more valuable since it cannot be reclaimed or rebuilt. A 3.2-km stretch of Rajpath featuring some of India’s most iconic landmarks is to be redeveloped will despoil the country of its heritage and valuable public space. The new plan changes the land use for the 35-hectare area, which includes Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the India Gate War Memorial to ‘government use’ from ‘public facilities’. The Central Vista redevelopment project will obliterate the history and character of the area, which also has among the biggest public spaces in a city of more than 20 million. It is an important place for tourists coming from all over the world and the residents of Delhi. The redevelopment represents a form of government sprawl where powerful offices appropriate urban space with little concern for planning or socio-ecological consequences. Several old buildings have been already upgraded to add amenities such as air-conditioning and internet cable and more as per the requirement. More can be done, as long as our starting point is a will to conserve and prolong the life and use of the existing buildings. – Simran Dhama, Ajmer, Rajasthan.
14. We have a saying “Prevention is better than Cure”. Infrastructural development is important, but we should know its limits. The inspiration for redevelopment should come from the past. Earlier, we were more into producing, and now we are more into manufacturing. The more the manufacturing, the more ecological disaster will happen. The Central Vista being such a big scale project need to really look if we seriously need so much of investment, in terms of energy, resources and wealth. Definitely it may be a pride for the nation to talk about it, but on behalf of what? – Krishna Rathour, Anuppur, MP.
15. The Lutyens Delhi and Central Vista are iconic in Delhi and are public lands. The public lands are meant for public purposes, so this place cannot be used for any construction. The place has a vast area of green cover and the trees will be removed to make place for the new buildings. These trees cannot be transplanted as the soil in Delhi is weak, and the air & water are also polluted. The large amount of debris/building waste produced by the project which will be another issue besides that increasing the air pollution. An estimated 700 trucks of debris will be carried back and forth from the site every day for the next four years. Where will this waste go? What will happen to them? The decision on redevelopment was taken in a hurry without any consultations. Most of the key approvals for the building have been done during the lockdown. There are thus several allegations of lack of transparency in the project and the project has been passed without much discussion in the parliament and the public. The nation is undergoing a battle against COVID-19 and the Centre has been rushing with the project. The project is estimated around 922 crore rupees. Spending this large sum of financial resources for the redevelopment of parliament in this pandemic situation is beyond understanding and is the most debated question among the people. – Bhargav Krishna Sai, Tirupati, AP.
16. Change is the rule of nature. And when we say change, it means something consisting of innovation and expansion by taking care of future aspects. Making Central Vista and a new parliament building is a well-planned decision and it needs to be done as the population is increasing exponentially and to look at that we have to make the government bodies to deal with the situation. And when we talk about the figures an elected MP represents over 15 Lakh voters on an average and MLA over 2 lakh voters which is the largest number in the world. In 1951, a MP on an average represented 3.54 lakh voters that means 18% average growth per year. So, it is a fair plan by the government which would be beneficial for the citizens of India. Before making this big decision, we must look on the following things.
a. Why are we planning this?
b. What are the future aspects? (specifically)
c. What kind of techniques are we going to use conventional or something new in ‘New India’?
d. How will it help the nation?
e. Is it the right time to do this? 6. What are the economic benefits if any?
f. Can we make it more environmentally friendly?
g. How will it affect the current local population?
h. Are we doing some research related to the materials we are using?
As an architect and a student of sustainable architecture who wants a better future for the country as well as for mother earth, I wish to ask what we are doing in the name of ‘New India’, if we are going to build a project with the conventional technique without taking care of the environment and nature? Are we doing so by keeping in mind the future generation of this country and those hard-working people who have dedicated their lives towards research and development of sustainable materials? There are research on the materials and the techniques undertaken by several organisations and individuals and we are not giving them a chance to make this project or any other government project sustainable and environmental friendly. I wonder then why they (also me in future) are practising and researching in the country, for the country, if it will not be put to use in such crucial project. I would like the government to re-evaluate the project and look for some better sustainable and eco-friendly construction materials and methods. So that this project becomes an iconic one which would be a beacon for hope for those who are fighting for our environment so that it may inspire the world that building need not be some concrete monstrosity. That will be real ‘NEW INDIA’ for us. – Anuj Pratap Jain, Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
*Students of Master in Sustainable Architecture at Central University of Rajasthan, Kishangarh with Course instructor Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava from Ahmedabad
Contacts of the offices where this paper will be sent:
− CPWD- firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,
− Prime Minister’s Office, PMO – firstname.lastname@example.org
− President of India- 1. Secretary to the president, Sh. KD Tripathi – secy.president@rb, 2. Joint secretary to the President, Sh. Ajay Bhadoo – email@example.com
− Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) firstname.lastname@example.org
− Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry- 1. Sh. Durga Shankar Mishra, Secretary(HUPA)- email@example.com 2. Sh. Neeraj Kumar, Director(NULM)- firstname.lastname@example.org
− Ministry of Environment, Forest and climate change. Shri Prakash Javadekar email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org, Shri Ameet Kumar email@example.com, Shri Sanjay Kumar firstname.lastname@example.org
− Ministry of Culture (Historical Buildings)- Shri Raghvendra Singh email@example.com, Shri Sanjay Pandey firstname.lastname@example.org, Shri Padma Lochan Sahu, email@example.com
− Ministry of Culture – firstname.lastname@example.org
− NITI Aayog- 1. Dr. Rajiv Kumar (VC) – email@example.com 2. Sh. Ravindra Pratap Singh (PS to VC) – firstname.lastname@example.org
− Archeological Survey of India Smt. V Vidyavathi (IAS), Director General, email@example.com − Delhi Police, firstname.lastname@example.org