Central Vista: former top officers of MEA express concern

The Centre’s plan to convert North Block and South Block into museums as a part of the larger revamp of the Central Vista has some former top officers of the Ministry of External Affairs, which is located in South Block, concerned about preserving the historic nature of the offices in the building.

Former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who retired in 2011, on Monday said in a series of tweets that the proposal to convert North Block and South Block into museums had left her disturbed. She said the Central Vista was emblematic of New Delhi and the “stately sweep and openness” of the area should remain.

“And making North and South Blocks into museums ? I hope not. These stately buildings are an embodiment of the living history of our Republic. They have not reached expiry date. As a citizen and a former civil servant, I am disturbed (sic),” she wrote.

In response to a Twitter user, she said the Foreign Secretary’s room was “one of the most beautiful historic offices there could ever be”.

Ex-Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who retired in 2015, agreed with Ms. Rao, saying that South Block had had a “ringside view of history”. “Most officers who have worked in South Block will think it’s not a good idea to turn it into a museum. It is a part of our history, our history after 1947. It does need maintenance and a more efficient use of space,” she said. Architects could be asked to redesign the interior for better utilisation of space.

On the larger revamp of Central Vista, Ms. Singh said since the area “belongs to the people” and acted as the green lungs of New Delhi, it should be left undeveloped.

Another former top officer, Kanwal Sibal, who retired as Foreign Secretary in 2003, said there was need to balance tradition and modern requirements.

“All these buildings have a history and to that extent, there is some nostalgia. Undoubtedly, the Foreign Secretary’s room is exceptional. It is a difficult choice to make - preserving a building that may not be functional or redesigning to make it more suitable to modern use,” he said.

North Block and South Block, with their wide corridors and layouts, were suitable for museums. Giving examples of changing uses of historic buildings, he said the Old War Office in London was now being developed into high-end apartments and the French Ministry of Finance was relocated from the Louvre in Paris to give more space to the museum.

K. Shankar Bajpai, a former ambassador and secretary in the MEA who retired in 1986, said he was “very sad to hear” about the project.

“These [North and South Block] are not easy buildings to maintain and run. But they are part of our history,” he said. While there were certain issues in working there, “umpteen governments have functioned” the same way. “I don’t understand why this is considered necessary,” he stated.

The proposed Central Vista redevelopment project announced by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in 2019 includes the construction of new office buildings for all Ministries along the 3-km-long vista or Rajpath. The draft masterplan drawn up by the architects of the project, Ahmedabad-based HCP Design, Planning and Management, shows North and South Block being re-purposed as museums after shifting out the offices of various Ministries to the new secretariat buildings.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 5:01:55 PM |

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