In early September this year, the Government of India floated a request for proposal for the 'development or redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista'. The development or redevelopment of Parliament will be done by August 2022 when India celebrates its 75th Independence Day. By next year, the Central Vista will be redeveloped and the common Central Secretariat will be built by 2024, as per plan.
Ever since the intent was made public, a debate has started as to whether the government should take up the project or not. Architects, conservationist, and commoners alike, besides the politicians are driving the discussion based on pragmatism as well as sentiment. The government has its own set of reasons - North Block and South Block are not earthquake resistant, there is shortage of working and parking space, buildings no longer support the added demands of space and security, there are no chambers for MPs and the situation is likely to worsen once the number of seats increase, etc. While the government's intent passes the test of pragmatism; for those associated with architecture and its aesthetics, the Parliament building is much more than a grand work of stone masonry.
Many agree that the governance complex designed by the British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbett Baker, lack modern amenities - there are reports of cracks in some of Parliament's columns -but all they want is that the hybrid architectural style of the structure be retained the way it is. They put forth the argument that the nature of architectural pluralism of the Parliament - with Hindu, Saracenic and Roman features - should be maintained while constructing a new Parliament House or renovating the existing structure. Given that the structures have settled into our national consciousness not only as a symbol of our country's democratic values but also for architectural aesthetics, uniqueness and appeal, the 'let's refurbish it' demand finds many a supporters and rightly so.
What is comforting is the fact that the government is well aware that the Parliament building is a heritage building and it has stated in clear terms that the heritage building will be preserved. The options before the government are either to opt for internal modifications or build a new building nearby; in either case they'll be able to maintain the heritage of the city. Architects are conservationists are confident that the government will ensure that the specified bidder will adhere to Lutyens Buglow Zone guidelines and Central Vista guidelines - both of which are strong guidelines to preserve the character of the city. Further assuaging the apprehensions of critics and naysayers alike, Hardeep Singh Puri, the union minister for housing and urban affairs, has on many occasions clarified that the facade of the 90-year-old Parliament building, and North and South blocks, which are heritage buildings, will not be touched while redeveloping the Central Vista, an over three-km stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Lutyens' Delhi.
Six firms viz HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt Ltd, C P Kukreja Architects, Sikka Associates Architects, INI Design Studio, Arcop Associates Pvt Ltd and Architect Hafeez Contractor -- participated in the bidding process. Post the bidding and presentations made by each of the bidders, Gujarat-based architecture firm HCP Design has won the consultancy bid for the ambitious project. HCP Design's selection was made by a six-member jury led by director of the School of Planning and Architecture, P S N Rao. Accordingly HCP Designs will be paid Rs 229.75 crore for consultancy services. The firm will prepare the master plan of the project, including designs, cost estimation, landscape and traffic integration plans, and parking facilities among others.
The winning design has suggested constructing a new Parliament House at parking area behind Mahatma Gandhi statue and a new building to provide offices to all MPs. Since the government maintained that all heritage buildings including Parliament House will be retained, the company has suggested that existing Parliament building could be converted as Museum of Indian Democracy, South Block could be used to showcase 'India at 75' and North Block could be kept as 'Making of India'. There is also a proposal to build a low-speed circular rail facility to connect all buildings of Central Secretarit for easy movement of people working in these buildings. It has also suggested shifting of the prime minister's office (PMO) from existing South Block to new building closer to Rashtrapati Bhavan and the PM's residence to a new house which could come up on the Dalhousie Road.
However, there are voices which are questioning the silence of people who value Delhi's heritage character and would like to retain it as a badge of the city's identity. One of the major concerns raised by a few concerned architects, environmentalists, and historians is that the entire process has not followed the international protocols which dictate that interventions in a heritage area must be preceded by a state of conservation or heritage impact assessment report. In the absence of such a report, that defines parameters within which redevelopment can take place, the bid condition that consultant will adhere to the LBZ/CVC guidelines rings hollow.
Yet another concern that is being raised is the haste with which the project is being implemented. With the intent of the government that the new buildings that come up would have a lifespan of 150 to 200 years and would be energy-efficient and modern workspaces, a few industry veterans are of the opinion that the timeline proposed to complete the project - completed before the next general elections - does not support the objective. What could further prove to be an area of concern is leaving the planning, design and implementation to the advice of the successful bidder.
Now the wait is for the exact plan which is yet to be made public - which are the buildings that will be razed down, how will the Parliament be expanded, will Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha be split into separate spaces, etc? The government on its part has made it clear that the winning design would be published online and that it will hold multiple public consultations till the tendering process for selecting a contractor is complete and include inputs from all the other firms as well and then finalise the master plan for the project.
There is yet no clarity on how much would the entire revamp project cost, and that's a question being posed to the government. While many put the consultancy fees at 3-5% of the total project cost, there are others who cite that the norm does not necessarily apply to a massive project as proposed. However guesstimates range from Rs 12,500 crore to Rs 25,000 crore.
A project of this scope and vision demands wider public and professional consultation. Such consultations is bound to yield better results and also avoid predictable pitfalls. The government has on many occasions has expressed its willingness to take various stakeholders on board. As member of the design/architecture fraternity, we would like to know what are your suggestions/design interventions/thoughts that you would like to be incorporated. On our part, we will collate all your inputs/interventions and present it before Hardeep Singh Puri - the union minister of housing and urban affairs.
Look forward to hear from you.
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