Modi’s new parliament plan faces criticism

NEW DELHI: An Indian government plan to redevelop New Delhi’s historic Central Vista area is “an attempt to redefine the past” that will destroy the city’s heritage, historians and architects claim.

The warning follows an announcement that Tata Projects Ltd., one of India’s biggest conglomerates, has won a $121 million contract to build the new parliament building on the site. The redevelopment is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants to replace old government buildings on the site at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

Centra Vista, which stretches from the presidential palace to the India Gate war memorial, was designed by British architects, including Sir Edwin Lutyens, and was once home to British colonial authorities.  

  “This is the only open space in New Delhi and it defines the capital. Why does the government want to occupy public space that serves several purposes? You don’t destroy heritage,” Sohail Hashmi, an historian and heritage conservation expert, told Arab News on Thursday. 

 “In other countries, buildings even older than 200 years are still being used by governments,” he said.

Hashmi said that the Modi government “wants to erase everything that the first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru built.” 

Swapna Liddle, of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, said that existing structures should upgraded to serve new needs before new architecture was installed on the site.  

“It is a historic area. There should be wider consultation with heritage experts,” he added.

In September last year, India’s Central Public Works Department invited bids from architects worldwide by November 2020 to “replan the entire Central Vista area.” The upgrade includes public amenities, parking and green spaces to make Central Vista “a world-class tourist destination.” 

The department said that new buildings are needed because of “acute shortage of office space” and “difficulties in coordination” among ministries. 

The project was approved by a committee headed by the prime minister in April this year without public consultation because India was in lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak. The decision angered concerned citizens, academics, historians and architects. 

“India is passing through a grave crisis in terms of the pandemic and the Central Vista project should be the last thing on our mind,” Lt. Col. Anuj Srivastva, an architect who teaches at the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, told Arab News. 

“There is no need for the project. There has been no public consultation and no discussion in the parliament. Even some parliamentarians have said that the project needs to be shelved.” 

Historian Aditya Mukherjee, of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, accused Modi of “behaving like a medieval king” at a time when millions are starving or have lost their jobs.

“In a modern democracy, if someone wants to leave a legacy, it should be through ideas and people’s welfare,” he said. 

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said the prime minister is using the project to divert attention from the coronavirus crisis. 

“Modi wants to instil a sense of pride at executing a major project that will be talked about as a major national achievement,” he said.  

“From now on it’s not going to be Lutyens’ New Delhi but Modi’s Central Vista.”

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