Whispersinthecorridors

FORUM

“Development, Re-development of Parl house, Central Sectt and Central Vista”

Let me come straight to the point. There was some kind of  ‘Ilhaam’ to convey PM’s twin vision of having office buildings, more than 50 years old in Delhi to be razed or revamped and search for a global architecture to redevelop and restructure the central vista, central secretariat and the Parliament house.

Public is not naïve. No wonders, it has already started accusing the CEO of foisting grandiose plans so as to leave a lasting mark on the gullible masses. Dates of completions of projects are fixed even  examining the implications . Decisions are taken unilaterally with scant or no regard for stakeholders. Lack of consultative mechanism, makes it  almost dictatorial. Appalling. Results are obvious. Utter confusion prevails in Min / Housing &Urban Affairs; Officers and engineers are either half-informed or uninformed. No sharing of information, no brain-storming sessions before finalising the multiple projects.

A deeper analysis would throw up several ambiguities. Sample some of these.

The govt reveals its ambitious plan of revamping or building a new Parliament House by 2022 (synchronizing with  75th Independence Day) , razing down Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan and build a common secretariat to locate about 70,000 central government employees who now currently work across 30 buildings. The ambitious projects are to be completed by March 2024.A rather tall order for CPWD with its laidback work culture. Favourite realtors could join the fray on the basis of turn-key projects.

North and South Blocks are proposed to be retained as museums with erection of new secretariat buildings. So, one can assume, there is nothing structurally wrong with the Lutynes landmarks. The plan includes upgrading public facilities, parking and greenery in central vista to make it a “world-class tourist hub” by November, 2020.

According to experts, North and South Blocks may need some retrofitting as they are not earthquake proof. Interference with Central Vista by demolishing Shastri/ Krishi/ Udyog Bhawans etc and replacing these with multi-storeyed glass structure without any consultation with the public, groups of architects or urban planners – would be unpardonable. Why raze down buildings for not being earthquake -proof ?

Domain experts caution that any plan of such large scale and magnitude should not be executed in a hurry. This is a serious flaw in the scheme.A truncated timeframe without detailed examination of ambitious projects leaving many things vague ,would lead to selection of incompetent ,inefficient builders who could  leave the jobs in the middle causing more delay and corruption.

The ministry invited bids both from Indian and international architecture firms to provide consultancy services for the projects. The bidders have been asked to visit the site and examine the parameters and scope of the work in detail, and  carry out detailed analysis before submitting the bids. It is left to the bidders to choose what they plan to revamp or demolish as per their plan. In other words, Govt is not clear about its flagship projects. Locating vacant space for new Parliament building, would be a tedious job .It must be ensured that Fee structure is decided by the Council of Architecture to prevent malpractices. Often foreign companies initially ask for very low fees upfront and then do a shabby job or even abandon the project midway. So adherence to Council norms would ensure that projects are executed by the best local hands.

Would there be any monitoring mechanism to ensure adherence to Lutyens bungalows and Central Vista guidelines ? This is considered necessary to preserve the original  character of the capital city. Central Vista needs special attention. It has hundreds of trees, some as old as 100 years. The trees need replacement. The bid document does not spell out importance of Central Vista.

My hunch is that the Government would ultimately press for replacing  present Bhawans by multi-storied office buildings. This will cause massive inconvenience to the public. Due to high population density in Lutyens Delhi, decentralisation of  central government offices is need of the hour as per GOI’s stated policy. Aspects like architecture , heritage, transportation and time-bound nature of projects would have to be dovetailed.   One wonders whether Delhi Urban Art Commission will be kept in the loop?

The bidders are expected to have the experience of completing one single master plan for urban or historical area redevelopment project of size not less than 500 acres in India along with a single building project of value not less than Rs 250 crore. A comprehensive urban design, landscape and conservation strategy, should have been prepared first. 

Both chairman (RS) and Speaker ( LS) have asked the government to build a modern Parliament house. Is the whole exercise being undertaken to pamper the political class by providing separate chamber for each MP? At least, so it seems. Lok Sabha secretariat is still collecting feedback from stakeholders . Locating a new site to build a new Parliament may not be easy. Security concerns have to be addressed.

Govt’s  perpetually wonky priorities are disturbing. The public was assured of Good governance, Efficiency, Transparency, Accountability and above all Equity. Removal of encroachment on public land still remains elusive.

The amount earmarked for  make-over of  Lutyens Delhi, could be put to better use for removal of unauthorised occupation on public land.

Instead of signing the deal for  “bullet train” technology  on Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector, we could have carried out full electrification of trunk lines or to double-track some important rail routes that are still single line and require complicated scheduling schemes which get routinely disrupted resulting in most trains running late

A K Saxena (A former civil servant)

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