Delhi’s three iconic buildings – the National Museum, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), the National Archives Annexe – emblematic of its history and culture are set to be demolished as part of the centre’s Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project that envisages a new Parliament building, and new residences for the Prime Minister and the Vice President.
The other buildings marked for demolition are: Shastri Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, Vigyan Bhavan, Vice President’s Residence, Jawahar Bhavan, Nirman Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, Raksha Bhavan. The total area to be demolished is 4,58,820 square metres.
The National Museum has thousands of invaluable rare idols, original sculptures, priceless coins, paintings and jewellery that connect several points of political and cultural history. These include the famous dancing girl of Harappa, Nataraja in Chola Bronze, relics of Buddha, Ganjifa cards, Tanjore paintings and wood carved doors. All these objects will be shifted to North or South Block.
While the main building of the National Archives will remain intact, the annexe building will be demolished and a new building will be constructed.
The archival records kept here include 45 lakh files, 25,000 rare manuscripts, more than 1 lakh maps and 1.3 lakh Mughal documents. The transferring of documents is fraught with risk of loss or mishandling.
The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts has an extravagant collection of heritage pieces, manuscripts and an impressive library. All of this will be temporarily shifted to the Janpath hotel, which has been renovated for the purpose.
Last week, in an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a group of over 70 public intellectuals and scholars from India and abroad, including historian Romila Thapar, critic and scholar Gayatri Spivak and Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, called for a halt and reconsideration of the government’s Central Vista redevelopment project, and said: “It is especially troubling that this extravagant project is moving ahead in the midst of a devastating pandemic. The current escalating health crisis calls for a pause and a reset. In the short term, all priorities and resources should be directed at combating the pandemic. In the long term, there should be public consultations so that the future of India’s institutions, heritage architecture, and historical collections can be determined through a democratic process…The details of the Central Vista demolition are opaque. It is unclear, for example, how the National Museum art objects will be stored and eventually displayed.”
Earlier this year in February, the centre told the Lok Sabha that all listed Heritage buildings, precincts in the Central Vista region will be protected and any renovation work will be taken up after approval of Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC); architects, however, question these claims.
AG Krishna Menon, who is an architect, urban planner and conservation consultant, said, “It is wrong from a town planning point of view that the original intent of the capital is being changed. The government claims that it is still conserving the heritage. Again it is wrong because it is conserving a few buildings and that also the skeletons of the buildings. So in other words, what they’re doing is the heritage is being conserved by conserving the building but hollowing out its meaning.”
Facing criticism, the government recently told the Delhi High Court that petition against the Central Vista is “sheer abuse of the process of law” and yet another attempt to block the project, requesting that the petition be scrapped with a fine.