Reflecting new aspirations


The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, cleared Delhi's Central Vista project. A new Parliament building is being built, but it is not just about a single building, or even the upgrading of office buildings along Rajpath.There are several good reasons why India needs to invest in modernising the physical infrastructure of the government, create iconic new buildings, and renew its inner-cities. This is not a rejection of our past, or an attempt to pull down existing iconic buildings. These should be preserved, but what about the aspirations and needs of our times? The current Parliament building is undoubtedly beautiful and is part of our history. It should be preserved, but the wide-ranging structural works needed to preserve it will need years and cannot be done while it is also being used for parliamentary sittings. Hence, it is easier to build a new building and redeploy the old building, once renovated, for another purpose. The same can be done with North and South Block. As someone who works in one of these buildings, its grand corridors do not make for practical office spaces. While a few senior officers may enjoy large high-ceiling rooms, most of the staff sit between dark partitions with dangling wires and poor ventilation. If the Raisina ministries are relocated, government officials will get modern facilities while the general public will get access to beautiful public spaces including restaurants, cafes, and a world class complex of national museums.
When the grand buildings of Raisina Hill were built during British colonialism, India did not lack for grand buildings. There were existing buildings built by the British themselves in Kolkata. Delhi itself had many grand buildings from the Mughal era. Yet, they chose to build a whole new city for their times. With a few exceptions such as the VidhanaSoudha building in Bengaluru, the Indian Republic has made surprisingly few contributions to public architecture. Till a couple of years ago, a structure dedicated to colonial era wars (ie India Gate) was used as the National War Memorial. In short, most Indian cities are still dependent on colonial-era cores to function. Great cities and societies are not those that unquestioningly preserve everything from the past. They evolve and add new things while retaining the best from the past. Even that which is preserved is often repurposed for the needs of the times. This organic process of evolution is what provides the dynamism of a city and a people.

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