Delhi’s iconic Hall of Nations demolished

The halls, regarded as "modern architecture marvels", were built at Pragati Maidan here to celebrate 25 years of the country's Independence.

By: PTI | New Delhi | Updated: April 24, 2017 8:25:03 pm
 pragati maidan delhi, pragati maidan demolished, hall of industries pragati maidan, hall of nations pragati maidan, nehru pavilion, international pavilion pragati maidan, trade fair delhi, delhi heritage, ITPO, delhi news, indian express Hall of Nations in Delhi demolished. (Credits: Tashi Tobgyal)

The Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries, two of the national capital’s iconic modern architectural landmarks, celebrated globally, are now history. According to the INTACH, which has been fighting a losing legal battle for preservation of the buildings, work to tear down the buildings began late last night and by morning, the halls were reduced to rubble.

The halls, regarded as “modern architecture marvels”, were built at Pragati Maidan in Delhi to celebrate 25 years of the country’s Independence. The Hall of Nations was inaugurated in 1972 by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “The Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries have been demolished to make way for a state-of-the-art modern complex which would add immensely to the profile of the capital city.

“The buildings were not categorised as heritage by the Heritage Conservation of Committee (HCC) as those are only 45 -years-old. So, we have demolished those for the new project. Demolition of the Nehru Pavilion is still going on,” a senior ITPO official told PTI. The India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), headquartered at Pragati Maidan, is a nodal agency under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for promoting the country’s external trade and hosts the famous annual trade fair on its premises.

The ITPO made clear that setting up of an Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC) requires dismantling of Hall No. 1 to 6, 14 to 20, state pavilions and others, “including the Hall of Nations, the Nehru Pavilion and the Hall of Industry”.

“The layout plan of IECC, which inevitably involves demolition of these structures, has already been approved by statutory authorities concerned, like the Delhi Urban Arts Commission, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the National Monuments Authority,” the ITPO said.

“This is just shocking. It is not just a loss of architectural legacy but in a way the evolution of the history of the city as well. “Next is what? Demolish the India International Centre (IIC) or other modern-era icons? Is the span of its existence the only criteria for heritage? What about its architectural significance and the emotional bond people have had with it?” noted urban planner A G K Menon asked.

Menon is the former convener of the Delhi Chapter of INTACH, which has been fighting to have a group of modern-era buildings in the city comes under protection. The Delhi High Court on April 20 had dismissed a plea by the building’s architect to preserve it. Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva dismissed as “without merit” the plea by architect Raj Rewal, who had designed the building.

The court’s verdict was based on the decision of the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC), set up for protecting heritage structures, which has held that only those buildings which are 60-years or older would be considered for heritage status. It also said since the HCC’s guidelines, formulated in February this year, have not been challenged, therefore the architect has no legal right to seek preservation of the structure.

In a statement, the ITPO said earlier, a public interest litigation and two writ petitions filed by India Institute of Architects in Hon’ble High Court of Delhi were dismissed. “The Hall of Nations is a very significant building in the evolution of modern architecture in India. It demonstrated the ability of the profession in 1970 to build a large space frame structure with available resources, which in this case was reinforced cement concrete and skilled hand-labour.

“It was an iconic building representing an important step in the development of Indian architecture. It should have been conserved on that account,” Menon said. Possibly, India’s first pillarless structure, the move to demolish it was met with impassioned pleas from art houses and galleries globally, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

“The MoMA and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, among other institutions, have exhibited the plans and photographs of the buildings,” he said. As per the Centre’s plan, the exhibition-cum-convention complex will come up in a few years. “Seven exhibition centres, spread over an area of nearly 1.5 lakh sqm, will come up in Pragati Maidan. Besides, a world-class iconic convention centre, with a capacity of 7,000 seats will also be built. Also, the plan goes beyond Pragati Maidan, we will be constructing an underpass through the maidan to decongest traffic in and around the area.

“The layout plan is ready and it has been approved by the Competent Authority. We expect to finish it by mid-2019. A basement parking facility for 4,800 vehicles is also a part of the project,” the ITPO official said. “Red and white sandstones will be used in the construction in harmony with other buildings in the capital. It will add to the aesthetics of the city,” he said. Heritage lovers in the city, described the demolition as a “huge architectural loss”, saying, the structures should have been “preserved for posterity”.

The ITPO highlighted that work for redevelopment of Pragati Maidan is time-bound in nature and such a venue of international standards is in sync with India aspiring to be a global power. It said the RFP for IECC has been floated by the National Buildings Construction Corporation on March 23 with May 21 as the last date of submission of bids for selecting the vendor/contractor.

Meanwhile, as the Hall of Nations lies in ruins, its creator, architect Raj Rewal says the demolishment was “very unfair”, particularly with two hearings scheduled on April 27 and May 1 respectively. “When the court hearings were underway, one of them was supposed to happen on the 27th and the other on May 1. So, it is very unfair,” he told PTI.

Rewal and Menon along with structural engineer Mahendra Raj and Divya Kush, president of Indian Institute of Architects have released a press statement calling the demolition “an act of outrage”. “We consider the demolition of the Hall of Nations at Pragati Maidan an act of outrage. The case was being considered in the Delhi High Court and the hearings were scheduled on 27th April 2017 and 1st May 2017.

“It may not be out of place to mention that the independent body of the Indian Institute of Architects and the different Associations’ of Engineers had requested the authorities to preserve these buildings for prosterity for their unique archievements. INTACH had pleaded in their court case to do the same,” the statement reads.

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