Thursday, January 21, 2021

Modi ignores criticism and braces for new ‘vulgar’ capital

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Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone on Thursday for a new parliament building that will be part of a controversial and “vulgar” $ 2.7 billion overhaul of the imperial heart of New Delhi.

New Delhi’s colonial-era redevelopment, the 3 km-long Ceremonial Avenue, which connects the Grand Presidential Palace to the monumental Gateway of India, has been called “Modi’s Dream.” It also aims to strengthen the image of the Prime Minister as the architect of a ascendant India with new capital to match its stature.

“When the British built these buildings, they never had an independent India on the horizon,” Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, told the Financial Times. “The idea is to make this city look like the capital of an independent country with iconic buildings.”

However, the planned overhaul of the nation’s most distinctive public spaces, with its echoes of Washington DC’s great shopping mall, has outraged conservationists.

Architects and planners challenged the plan in the Supreme Court, which gave the go-ahead for the dedication ceremony, but warned the government against any substantive work – demolition or construction – until the matters be settled.

The government plans to replace the distinctive 93-year-old circular Parliament which was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker when the British imperial capital moved from Kolkata to New Delhi.

“[The ceremonial avenue] is part of history and it is an extraordinary urban design, ”said architect AG Krishna Menon, former head of the Delhi section of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Culture, who filed one of the legal challenges. “The audience embraced it and it was their space.”

Mahatma Gandhi watches over the Indian Parliament, designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker © Money Sharma / AFP via Getty

The new parliament will accommodate 900 deputies

Mr Menon said the government’s plans had been marked by a lack of transparency in the decision-making process, which flouted heritage protection laws.

“In conservation, you say the patina of age is a value,” he said. “Here we are abandoning the patina of decades and building a whole new set of buildings. I think it’s silly. The new parliament will be a staging: sumptuous, vulgar and totally inauthentic.

The new triangular parliament, to be built by Tata Projects, will have the capacity to accommodate around 900 lawmakers, in preparation for a parliament expansion expected in 2026. Mr. Modi wants the new structure to be ready by 2022 to mark the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.

Officials suggested that the existing sandstone parliament building, the scene of Jawaharlal Nehru’s proclamation of the birth of modern India, and the country’s heated constitutional debates, could serve as a “museum of democracy“.

The redevelopment plan foresees 10 massive office buildings with a capacity to house 51 central ministries now scattered around the city as well as a new residence for the Prime Minister.

Ministers and senior officials from the colonial-era North and South Blocks, which house crucial departments, will move into the new blocks while some buildings constructed in the post-independence years will be demolished.

“These buildings that were built in the 1960s are awful,” said Puri. “You have to build to new, higher environmental standards.”

The new administrative area is designed by Bimal Patel, an architect from Mr. Modi’s home state, Gujarat. Known for his neo-brutalist style with austere geometric shapes and few ornaments, Mr. Patel worked closely with Mr. Modi on other public projects, including the development of the Sabarmati waterfront in Ahmedabad.

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