India rebuilding its seat of power in controversial mega-project

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, July 17 (EFE).- Despite the pandemic and extreme temperatures, the renovation of the iconic Rajpath boulevard, the seat of power in India, continues for a new parliament and a set of new ministry buildings in a project worth $2.68 billion mired in controversy.

The Central Vista project, to redesign the former center of British colonial power, is situated between the presidential palace and the India Gate, two of the most famous monuments of the capital city.

“The redevelopment was necessary 20 years ago,” the architect in charge of the project, Bimal Patel, told EFE at the project site.

At the three-kilometer long avenue, closed to the public since the renovation began last year, dozens of workers dig ditches, install pipes and move massive slabs of red granite.

Patel insisted that the plan for the controversial renovation project stuck to the basics: lighting, parking, and bathrooms for visitors.

Two buildings that currently house ministries will turn into museums.

During the conversation, the scorching heat of the afternoon gives away to sudden showers that completely drench the works.

Patel used the opportunity to point out the lack of drains and slopes to prevent monsoon flooding.

The old buildings around the boulevard would be destroyed and replaced by new ministries, with the same model for all, including the prime minister’s residence and a triangular-shaped new parliament house in the front of the current building.

“The parliament building is in an awful state. It was built over almost 100 years ago,” Patel said.

He said the parliament house building was in a dilapidated condition.

“Over the years, it has been stressed. The courtyards are covered, the infrastructure inside is failing, it is a fire hazard, it is a security risk,” said Patel.

He is considered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chief architect after heading his urban projects in his home state of Gujarat and the parliamentary constituency of Varanasi.

He said the new plan respected the original vision of British architect Edwin Lutyens, who designed the colonial New Delhi.

“However, there is all this anger, essentially because of mis-communication and lack of information,” he said, attributing it to the lack of communication by the government.

Architect and conservationist AG Krishna Menon is one of the many experts who have spoken out against the project, criticizing it for the loss of public space.

“(Some) 100 acres of land have been converted from public, semi public to government use. So just to say that it is still public use is not right,” Menon said.

“It is government use means it is government use. The government use in our condition means several things. One is, it is not accessible to the people. It is a secure zone security zone.”

Specifically, the renovation requires the demolition of the National Museum and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts.

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