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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Bhawans will go… they are in such poor state: Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri

Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on the Prime Minister’s dream project, utilising space and maintaining symmetry in the Central Vista, and a possible museum of colonial history. Excerpts from an interview:

Written by Somya Lakhani | New Delhi | Updated: September 23, 2019 7:39:54 am
The Bhawans will go... they are in such poor state: Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. (Express photo/File)

When was the project envisaged and why?

This is the PM’s project, it’s been his dream. He mentioned it to me many years ago when I was the Ambassador to Geneva and we were talking about Capitals. He kept it under wraps and has been working on this. As a minister, even I received information on a need-to-know basis. We are determined to make Delhi one of the nicest capital cities of the world.

This city has heritage, culture and history, but it has been subjected to unplanned and vigorous urbanisation. In 1947, before Partition, the population was eight lakh, and after Partition, it was a little under 20 lakh. These buildings were designed and built in 1911-1931, and 75 years later, the population matrix has gone completely off from what it was anticipated then.

A capital plan: The history, and future, of Lutyens’ Delhi

These buildings are colonial, and reflect the 190 years of imperial authority. We were a colony then and the decision-making was not in our hands. South Africa, which too was a colony then, has the same buildings. Years ago, the South African ambassador to the UN in New York said to me, ‘You sent us an English-educated lawyer, and we sent you back the Mahatma.’ He said these buildings have been preserved to remind us that we were a colony. Governments can’t function out of that when they are independent countries. One idea could be to turn South Block into a museum of colonial history.

What changes can be expected in the Parliament Building and the North and South Block buildings?

No one in their right mind will try to dismantle these buildings and no one said we are going to take apart the Parliament, it is heritage. The main flaw in the Parliament building is that there are 545 seats in Lok Sabha and 200-plus seats in Rajya Sabha but not enough space for them. Maybe what can be done is that we use the existing Parliament building for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and redesign it from inside; and maybe build a tunnel or an overhead link to connect to a new building. Each MP should have a chamber, and they don’t today. Many sit in the Central Hall.

The project will be executed by Indians, and supervised by the CPWD. I am very clear and so is the Prime Minister that the North and South Block buildings will stay. The South Block has the PMO, External Affairs and Defence Ministries. To go from one part of a Ministry to another part, one has to first cross Delhi traffic as offices are strewn across various Bhawans. That’s not how governments function; there has to be proximity. The idea is to build a completely modern, ecologically state-of-the-art government district, accessible by Metro. Everything is in the design stage right now.

Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker created the Central Vista with symmetry in mind. If new buildings are constructed, how will they impact that?

We will bring on board people who understand the Central Vista’s symmetry. If somebody has made a design which makes it completely asymmetrical, obviously they won’t be picked for the job. I mean if you’re running a capital city, it should look like a capital city. The aim is to utilise all that space efficiently.

What about the Bhawans, which were built in the late ’50s, early ’60s?

The Bhawans will go. I am the Minister at Nirman Bhawan and I make it look good, but have you been to the rest, such as Shastri Bhawan? These are government offices, you conduct business here, meet people, but they are in such poor state.

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