A day before the bhoomi pujan for Ram Temple in Ayodhya, former union minister Vijay Goel defaced the Babar Road signboard in Central Delhi, pasting a new board over what exists, demanding that it be called 5 August Marg instead. Goel said Babar was an “invader who attacked Hindustan and demolished Ram Mandir”. This is not the first time that such demands for changing a road name has been put forward. However, there is a channel and process through which any name change request goes.
What is the process of renaming a road?
Requests to change names of roads comes to agencies that have jurisdiction over the space, in this case New Delhi Municipal Council, from various places, such as the Home Ministry, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), different organisations and groups and local residents. Once the request is received, it is sent to the general administration department of NDMC. Thereafter, an agenda is put up before the NDMC council, which is a 13-member body headed by the council Chairperson, that takes the decision. If the resolution is passed, it is sent to the state road naming authority of the urban development department of the Delhi government for approval. If the decree directs for the changing of the road name, a letter is also sent to the postmaster general of Delhi by the NDMC indicating that a change has been accepted.
What are the criteria to accept or reject a change?
The council has laid down criteria for entertaining such requests as per the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Such requests should have historical relevance, respect the sentiments of people, it must be felt that there is a need to recognise the personality whose name has to be given to the street. The new names should not create confusion for the post offices and the public and deprive the people of a sense of history. Also, renaming is an exception, states the NDMC guideline.
Is renaming of roads a recent phenomenon in Delhi?
No, the first such instance was the renaming of Kingsway Road to Raj Path and Queensway to Janpath, post-Independence. Kingsway Road is where the Republic Day parade is currently held. Thereafter, Curzon Road was changed to Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Later, several other road names were changed, like Ratendone Road was renamed Amrita Shergil Marg and Kitchener Road was renamed Sardar Patel Marg.
Some names drawn from India’s colonial past, such as Hailey Road, Chelmsford Road, still survive. Back in 2015, Aurangzeb Road was named after former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, amid some controversy. The name of Race Course Road was also changed to Lok Kalyan Marg. After the road was renamed in 2016, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) changed the name of the Race Course Road metro station in line with the new name.
What other requests do agencies get?
In a year municipal corporations in Delhi receive over 300 requests for name change — ranging from naming a road or park in the name of a family member, Bollywood actors, deities, local politicians, freedom fighters and Army personnel. There is a park in Delhi in the name of Rajesh Khanna. There have been demands by political leaders in civic bodies to name roads after their ancestors citing their “eminent” credentials. Not all requests are cleared through. Such demands see an increase during the election season as there is an attempt to please residents by naming roads and parks based on their faith and demands.
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How is this practice viewed?
There are different schools of thoughts. Historians believe that this exercise deprives people of a sense of history. They say the names like Aurangzeb road (recently changed) alongside a cluster of other roads were named after Mughal rulers by the British when they designed the capital in early 20th century to reflect a sense of Delhi’s history. This, despite being at conflict with Mughal rulers including Bahadur Shah Zafar who was tried and sent to exile by them. They also advocate that a ruler’s act should be judged in the context in which they had ruled. There is another school of thought that advocates these changes that believes that rulers like Aurangzeb and Babar were cruel administrators and that there is no reason to honour them by naming a road after them.
Some believe that such exercises are unnecessary diversion of resources and energy and only create confusion. In the case of Connaught Place, for example, which was named Rajiv Chowk, the change has not made much of a difference as people continue to use the old name.
What are the processes after the name is changed?
The main expense is related to repainting street signs and making the names of civic corporations consistent with the city’s name. One has to paste the letters in with reflective tape or engrave it. The banks, schools or other institutions on the road change their postal addresses on their own after a direction is given.
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