At the heart of the national capital of ‘sovereign, democratic and republic’ country of India is New Delhi’s Central Vista. Decorated with jewels like Rashtrapati Bhawan, Central Secretariat, Parliament House, and India Gate, the Central Vista has always been both- the centre and symbol of independent India. The story began with laying of foundation stone for New Delhi by King George V during Delhi Durbar held in December 1911. Two young and brilliant architects- Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker- were appointed from across the globe to give shape to this magnificent landmark in space and time. Little did these architects know that together they were sculpting the monument by which the world’s largest democracy would be recognized in the years to come.
The glory and grandeur of Central Vista at New Delhi is amongst the most celebrated in the world. That is perhaps the reason why Manmohan Singh-led UPA government had recommended it to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. However, in the wake of the new Narendra Modi-led NDA term in 2014, the government’s approach towards the ‘historical’ site took a sudden U-turn.
The need for renewal
The new government’s argument behind this impulsive reversal of plan was that the old infrastructure and facilities don’t meet the current demands. It stressed that the various offices of the Central government were currently scattered over the entire capital, making them harder to work with optimum coordination. The fact that most of these structures had outlived their potential structural lives was also a factor. Due to this, getting them listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would only deem them unalterable, and therefore, unusable after few years.
As a result of this decision by the Central Government, an estimate of Rs 20,000 crore was designated for the Central Vista Redevelopment Project. Land use of approximately 61.4 acre of the concerned area as under the Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) 2021 was notified by the government to change from “recreational/public and semi-public facilities” to “government use”. The question that arises here is: why is it that the commoners have to pay for a new administrative district by sacrificing their own leisure retreat in the heart of the city?
The government’s scheme
The Central Vista, as per the Notice Inviting Tender (NIT) issued by the Central Public Works Department on in September 2019, is the main boulevard from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate. This approximately 3 kilometer long stretch, and 4 square kilometre (988 acre) area of land was the canvas for all national and international Design and Planning firms invited for the bid. However, the reason why the government negated its self-propagated agenda of ‘Make in India’, and went the other way by inviting international firms is unclear and worth deliberating.
The NIT mentioned that it specifically envisages development/ redevelopment of Parliament Building by July 2022. Common Central Secretariat was to be developed in the Central Vista area through redevelopment of existing GPOAs/other buildings/Hutments by March 2024. The Central Vista was to upgrade its public facilities, amenities, parking and green space to make it a world class tourist destination by November 2020.
The NIT pronounced an impossibly short deadline of 21 days for the submission of the Master Plan’s concept, plan, detail design and strategies, development/ redevelopment, demolition, as-well-as site development works. It can be indisputably said that the little time given for the preparation of all this failed to match the massive scale of the project scope and deliverables. This, in fact, portrays the amount of importance given to “design” by the government in any two bid practice adapted by it, whether Quality-Cost Based Selection (QCBS) or Least Cost Selection (LCS).
Even though the NIT spoke adequately about the various buildings which the Central Vista comprises of, there was no mention of the brief or programme for the whole scheme, which was hence left to the discretion of the bidding firm. A considerable flaw in this scheme was that not every Design or Planning firm could give their valuable contributions in this extremely prominent project. The bidding which should have been free for all to participate in (not unlike the recent War Memorial Project in the same precinct) was layered with limitations one after the next.
A hefty sum of 50 lakh rupees was demanded as Earnest Money Deposit (EMD). A firm had to have undertaken “three consultancy works of similar nature” as pre-qualification criteria for bidding, each project not less than 120 crore of cost in the past seven years. Annual turnover of the firm must be greater than 20 crore, and the firm must’ve worked with the Central Government for a single project worth 250 crore. These were only some of the requirements in order to even consider bidding for New Delhi Central Vista project. How, then, was it possible for any mind full of limitless creativity and potential to contribute to this future in the making?
The winning bid
As a result of all the unnecessarily stringent restrictions of the pre-qualification criteria, only six firms took part in the bidding process. These were HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd., CP Kukreja Architects, Hafeez Contractor, Sikka Associates Architects, Arcop Consultants and INI Design Studio. The six designs exhibit a variety of approaches towards the design. All these firms have self-formulized the extents of the site on ground, design brief, and other ingredients for design, since negligible information was provided regarding this.
The Bimal Patel-led Ahmedabad-based firm HCP Design won the bid, quoting for an amount of 229.75 crore, 40% less than what the government was prepared to offer. This is a typical example of how the competition between architects over fee has ultimately led the whole community of professional architects towards underpayment on all fronts.
HCP Design’s proposal comprised of a triangular new parliament building, just adjacent to the old one. A linear array of office buildings together forming the new Central Secratariat spanned between the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the India Gate. Around the hexagonal round-about of the India Gate were the annexe and support facilities for these offices. In this new scheme, a new building for the Prime Minister’s residence would be right beside the new Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). An exact mirror image of the PMO would be the block of new offices for the Members of Parliament. These two built masses would be situated in the area between Rashtrapati Bhawan and old Central Secretariat.
In this new scheme, the old Parliament building would become a museum of Indian Democracy, just like the North Block and the South block, which would in turn become museums representing ‘making of India’ and ‘India at seventy-five’ respectively. The Rajpath where the Republic Day parade takes place every year since India became independent in 1950, would undergo a complete makeover too. A Central boulevard featuring gardens, lined with a pair of water channels would act as a buffer between the office buildings on either side.
While the proposal submitted by HCP did not showcase any details or creative visualizations of any of the blocks, most of the other bidders managed to pull that off. The highlight of CP Kukreja’s design was connecting the Rajpath to the Yamuna through a water channel, sinking the roads beneath the new Secretariat blocks and adapting various elements from the architecture of the land, creating a balanced amalgamation of tradition and technology. Hafeez Contractor took the lotus symbol and combined it with the star form to create a massive landmark in the backdrop of India Gate as seen from the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The new Secretariat blocks would be in the form of huge built towers, looking slightly out of place with the surrounding buildings.
Sikka Associates Architects went on to detail the new Secretariat Blocks and the new Parliament building, definitely paying more attention to how these various structures would look individually, rather than as parts of a bigger whole. Arcop’s proposal was a general overall picture, and lacked any character worth commenting upon. INI Design Studio placed the new Parliament Building on the Rajpath, connecting it linearly to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and India Gate. Security, sustainability, movement of traffic and pedestrians, landscaping, etc. had been given a thought in the overall scheme. The new Parliament building was detailed to a fair extent.
Allegedly, HCP Design’s original proposal did not feature a new building for the Prime Minister’s residence in the Central Vista, on similar lines as the other five firms. As a matter of fact, there was no mention of the said building in the entire NIT. However, thereafter, the firm was asked to resubmit its Master Plan proposal with the residence building in place. Hence, many believe that it was pre-decided that HCP Design would be the winning bid.
Criticism of the Central Vista Project
Many aspects of this whole picture have faced grave amounts of backlash from the fraternity of architects, planners, historians, and activists alike. From land-use change to destruction of heritage, from compromise in security to need for an administrative district in precisely the center of the city, from unfair selection of the design firm to unintelligent utilization of public money, especially in the time of Coronavirus, several questions have been raised regarding the whole process and its implications. Numerous pleas have been filed by multiple people regarding their issues and concerns, the hearing and judgements of some of which stand pending due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
Author Bio: Ritika Sharma is a final year architecture student at School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She’s an avid reader, fervent writer, and a thorough critic. Her knack for research and passion for writing have helped spotlight the finer aspects of the topic.
- Notice Inviting Tender, issued by Central Public Works Department, Government of India, on 2nd September 2019, for Consultancy Services for comprehensive Architectural & Engineering planning for the “Development/Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista at New Delhi”
- Walkthoughs submitted by the six bid participants: http://sthapatya.co/six-final-proposals-of-parliament-Central-Vista-redevelopment-project/