Heritage experts dissatisfied with SC verdict, worry about future changes

Heritage experts expressed dissatisfaction over Tuesday’s Supreme Court verdict that said only a part of the Central Vista area can be declared a heritage precinct while approving all environmental and land use changes to pave the way for the nearly ₹15,000-crore redevelopment project to begin.

Five petitioners — and 10 petitions — had challenged the redevelopment project over the Centre’s alleged lack of transparency and objectivity in awarding clearances such as on land use change to proceed with redevelopment of the area.

Pointing out that the Delhi Master Plan 2021 listed the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (or LBZ) as one of the six heritage zones in the city, founder-member of INTACH and noted architect-academician AG Krishna Menon contended that the heritage of Central Vista should not be seen in a piecemeal fashion; its heritage value lay as much in its present-day function as a seat of power as in its role as “a massive public space”.

The redevelopment project, he said, “changed the significance of the place.”

“Of course, change is important, but we have to ask what adds and improves the heritage value of a place. By demolishing buildings, and emptying out others, what significance are we retaining?” Menon, who was one of the five petitioners who challenged the project in the apex court, asked. Together with petitioners Rajiv Suri and Anuj Srivastava, he claimed that the redevelopment plan would destroy Central Vista’s heritage value.

Ahmedabad-based HCP Design, Planning and Management Ltd, which will be redeveloping the Central Vista has proposed to convert the North and South Blocks — where ministries such as finance, defence and home, have offices — into museums.

The redevelopment plan also proposes to raze some buildings located on either side of the avenue to build anew a set of buildings where all ministries’ offices, now spread across Delhi, will be brought to one place.

Author and Delhi historian Swapna Liddle feared that the land use change that the top court approved —all seven plots up for redevelopment in the area have undergone changes that broadly pertain to four categories of land use: recreational, government, public-semi public and residential — would pave the way for future changes.

“So, for example, a land use change from recreational to government means that it is lost to the public forever,” Liddle said.

HCP director Bimal Patel said the plan would not tamper with heritage buildings.

“The proposed master plan respects the existing layout and aims to strengthen it. All the works planned on the Central Vista are designed to respect the heritage buildings, spaces and their character. The notified heritage buildings being dealt with as part of this plan will be retrofitted in compliance with the prevailing regulations in all aspects,” Patel said.

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