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What is the project to redevelop Lutyens’ Delhi all about?

Who is drawing up the master plan and what are the concerns about this ambitious scheme?

November 03, 2019 12:02 am | Updated 12:09 am IST

The story so far: The Central government has kick-started its ambitious plan of redeveloping the three-km-long Central Vista and Parliament, and constructing a common Central secretariat for all ministries that are currently spread over many buildings across Delhi. This follows calls from Members of Parliament to have their own offices at Parliament House, which only Ministers get as of now, and it is in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “vision”, according to Union Minister of State (independent charge) for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri. On October 18, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) selected a Gujarat-based architecture firm, HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd., to serve as its consultant for the project. Announcing the project on October 25, Mr. Puri said he expected work on the ground to start by May 2020.

Why did the government feel the need for redeveloping the area?

The British built Parliament House and the North and South Blocks, which contain the offices of the Ministries of Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs, between 1911 and 1931. Post-1947, the government of independent India added office buildings such as Shastri Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan and Nirman Bhavan. According to Mr. Puri and Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry officials, these buildings do not have the facilities and space required today. While the British-built buildings are not earthquake-proof, the buildings that came up after 1947 are prone to fires.

Mr. Puri explained the rationale for a revamp in an interview with The Hindu recently: “Government business cannot be conducted out of palaces.” The huge rooms for Ministers and secretaries, with corridors lined with clerical staff would be replaced with modern workspaces, perhaps even open-plan or glass-partitioned offices. He said the new buildings that come up would have a lifespan of 150 to 200 years and would be energy-efficient and modern workspaces. Both Mr. Puri and the request for proposal (RFP) floated by the Central Public Works Department said the revamp would represent a “new India”.

What is the plan?

On September 2, the CPWD set in motion the massive project by issuing a request for proposal (RFP) from design and architecture firms to serve as a consultant for the redevelopment of Central Vista and Parliament and development of a new Central secretariat. Six firms responded to the RFP and four were finally short-listed for the opening of financial bids. While Delhi-based C.P. Kukreja Architects had a lower bid (₹218.75 crore), Ahmedabad-based HCP was selected at a cost of ₹229.75 crore. This, Ministry officials said, was in keeping with the quality-cum-cost basis model adopted for projects of this nature as the design proposal as well as the financial bids are taken into account. In its RFP, the CPWD had asked firms to come up with proposals for the buildings on the Central Vista and Parliament; these include suggesting which structures are to be razed and which are to be refurbished. Mr. Puri said while Parliament House and North and South Blocks will not be demolished, their usage may change. For example, they may be used as museums. The rest of the buildings that came up post-Independence, including Shastri Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, etc, are likely to be demolished.

HCP Design, which carried out the development of the Sabarmati riverfront in 2002 and is currently working on the redevelopment of the temple complex in Varanasi, will now prepare detailed designs for each of the buildings as well as a plan for the common Central secretariat. The exact plan has not been made public yet. Which buildings are to be demolished, how Parliament will be expanded — whether there will be an additional building constructed for offices or whether the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha will be split into separate spaces, etc. — will be decided as the process moves forward. Mr. Puri said on October 25 that the winning design by HCP would be published online and wide public consultations would be held before the plan is finalised.

How much will it cost?

As on October 31, the government is yet to say how much the revamp of New Delhi’s seat of power will cost. When announcing the project on October 25, Mr. Puri said usually consultancy fees are 3-5% of the total project cost. However, CPWD officials said that the norm may not apply to a massive project of this size. One senior CPWD official said the amount could be around ₹12,450 crore, while another top official said it could be higher. The Minister also said the exact cost of the project would be determined by the tender process, which will take place next year. He added that the government will also save about ₹1,000 crore a year, which it spends currently on renting office premises for its ministries outside of Lutyens’ Delhi in the Capital. What is known for sure is that HCP Design will be paid ₹229.75 crore for its work.

What lies ahead?

According to the government’s deadlines, the new Parliament (either as a completely new building or a renovation of the existing one) has to be ready by March 2022, the 75th year of India’s Independence. The revamped Central Vista, complete with public amenities and parking, has to be ready by November 2021 and the new common Central secretariat by March 2024. Before the tenders are floated for each construction or renovation project, the CPWD will carry out public consultations. Since the government’s plan became public in September, it has faced some criticism. Concerns about conservation of heritage and the environment have come up, though Mr. Puri has said the green cover and the history of New Delhi will not be damaged in the process of the revamp. The CPWD and Mr. Puri have said these will be addressed during the consultation phase, that architects, environmentalists, historians and Delhi-ites are waiting for.

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