Delhi is blessed with a phenomenal built legacy, but as its
skyline is increasingly marred by chaos and a completely banal
interpretation of modern architecture, the urgency of retaining
the city’s unique character becomes ever more immediate.
The Master Plan (MPD 2021) perfunctorily recognizes this, but
the two-page chapter on heritage is severely inadequate to tackle
this monumental task.
Countries the world over are now moulding cities around their
legacies. Even Shanghai – the icon of rampaging modernity
– is shaping its new urban fabric around its historic city
centres. The DDA, however, remains in a time warp as Delhi’s
built heritage faces increasing and reckless pressures of careless
MPD 2021 acknowledges that, “The built heritage of Delhi
is an irreplaceable and non renewable cultural resource”.
But a visible strategy to preserve this is altogether absent.
MPD 2021 even dispenses with the pretence of laying down specific
guidelines, and, leaves the ASI, GNCTD, State Archaeology Department,
NDMC, MCD, Cantonment Board and DDA to frame “appropriate
action plans…” At one stroke, all planning for heritage
is left in the hands of seven separate agencies with a history
of disastrous coordination. The Master Plan takes no responsibility.
It is interesting to see MPD 2021’s listing of heritage
zones: the Walled City, Nizamuddin, Mehrauli, Begumpur, Chirag
Dilli… All living examples of how fully heritage zones can
be violated. Today, these are all victims of rampant commercialization,
ghettoization and disastrous urban policies: Shahjahanabad is
a declared slum; Begumpur and Nizamuddin are not far from the
same fate; and in Mehrauli ‘encroachers’ live in Zafar
Mahal, one of the last great exemplars of Mughal architecture.
Despite this, the Master Plan has allowed for the further densification
of these very areas! Shockingly, Lutyens Bungalow Zone (LBZ) and
Connaught Place fail to find a mention in this listing of heritage
zones. And further, in its chapter on “Government Offices”
the plan allows “intensive development” of these offices
which are “occupying prime land”. A large number of
these offices are located in the LBZ.
Elsewhere we also find plans for “development of the metropolitan
city centre… the classical Connaught Circus and multi-storeyed
buildings in its extension… to bring in visual integration
in the overall form.” Again, LBZ “has to be conserved
in the process of redevelopment.” The precise nature of
this ‘redevelopment’ is never spelt out.
The M.N. Buch Committee had, in 1998, very clearly rejected densification
and a high rise profile for Lutyen’s Delhi, noting that
such “interference… would tantamount to a crime.”
Heritage conservation cannot be carried out in isolation; it
is no longer simply a matter of preserving individual buildings.
But the conceptual failure in MPD 2021 is manifest in the observation:
“While preparing any layout plans, these (buildings) should
be suitably incorporated.” Rather than stressing the necessity
of allowing the built heritage to dictate and shape enveloping
urban forms, such buildings are seen as just a nuisance that has
to be ‘accommodated’.
The Master Plan sagely notes, “Delhi had a traditional
urban design… reflected in the glory of 17th century Shahjahanabad
and New Delhi. In the course of time Delhi is becoming amorphous
aggregate of masses and voids.” To correct these cumulative
distortions, the Master Plan offers a range of suggestions on
‘urban design’. But it is precisely such ‘improvements’
and past attempts at ‘artification’ that have created
some of the most grotesque forms in the city!
The DDA appears to see Delhi’s built heritage as a white
elephant, an unproductive asset. But there is critical need, today,
to redefine the way heritage spaces are used, to maximize their
commercial potential without degrading the structures. Properly
conceived, heritage can not only pay for itself, it can add immensely
to the wealth of the city.
The complex pressures that undermine heritage management are
illustrated by some interesting decisions in the past. The Urban
Development Ministry allotted a 22 acre green patch to the DRDO
for a new office complex. The area falls squarely within the LBZ,
which was designated as one of the world’s most endangered
heritage sites by the World Monument Fund, and the M.N. Buch Committee
had noted that “all green spaces in LBZ must be conserved,
improved and enhanced.”
Again, eight acres of land on the Central Vista were allotted
to the External Affairs Ministry for a new ‘Videsh Bhawan’
complex. Edwin Lutyens had earmarked this specific area as a ‘cultural
hub’, a place to nurture and showcase the country’s
creative best. DDA’s Delhi has turned this proposed cultural
hub into a playing field for babus, on space stolen from the people.
These are among the Administration’s many contributions
to Delhi’s ‘heritage’. Just as it has presided
over the extinction of many of the city’s past splendours,
it continues with its task of grasping that elevated past and
bringing it crashing down to earth.
The writer is Convenor, Urban Futures Initiative
Published in The Pioneer, June 6, 2005
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