Statement seeking to halt and reconsider the Government of India's Central Vista Redevelopment Plan

A statement signed by scholars, artists and museum professionals, asking that the Government of India’s Central Vista Redevelopment Plan in New Delhi be halted immediately, given the public health emergency in India on account of a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. A global community of historians and curators who work on Indian and South Asian materials, express in particular their shared concern about the planned demolition of the National Museum, the National Archives and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and the relocation of the invaluable repositories of these key cultural institutions in a safe and responsible manner.

Here is the Statement:

We, the undersigned call for an immediate halt to the Central Vista Redevelopment Project undertaken by the Government of India, which commenced in December 2020. The designation of this scheme as an ‘essential service’ invites fresh scrutiny of the plan. It is especially troubling that this extravagant project is moving ahead in the midst of a devastating pandemic, endangering workers, and squandering scarce resources that could be used to save lives.

We would like to draw particular attention to the upcoming demolition and relocation of the National Museum of India, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), and the National Archives Annexe. In fact, preparations to raze the IGNCA complex are already underway. There was a clear logic in the urban planning of Delhi to keeping these cultural, archival and historical centres in close proximity to each other. The National Museum, in particular, has historical value and requires renovation and augmentation, not demolition. The rushed destruction of these structures will cause irrevocable harm to world-renowned institutions that have been painstakingly built over decades.

The Central Vista demolition threatens the collections of these heritage repositories. We are concerned that such a shift would impact the state of conservation of several objects. Even under normal circumstances, it would be a complex and risky operation to shift the diverse and irreplaceable treasures of the National Museum, the archival records held in the National Archives, and the manuscript holdings of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. The current pandemic only exacerbates these risks.

The unilateral and hasty implementation of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project runs contrary to established practices worldwide. Across the globe, such plans to expand, relocate, repurpose or redesign key cultural institutions are preceded by widespread consultations and consensus building before finalizing the design, let alone moving collections indefinitely.

The details of the Central Vista demolition are opaque. It is unclear, for example, how the National Museum art objects will be stored and eventually displayed in the office complex of the North and South Blocks, as is planned. As the National Museum’s collection still lacks a complete inventory of its holdings, this relocation is hazardous. The extent to which these collections will continue to be publicly accessible is also unknown.

These demolitions are only one part of a mammoth undertaking that involves constructing a lavish new Parliament and turning open space into office blocks. The project as a whole will forever alter the historic urban plan of Lutyens’ Delhi, a piece of world heritage that has become an integral part of the cultural and political life of independent India.

The current escalating health crisis calls for a pause and a reset. For the short term, this project should be immediately suspended, and all priorities and resources directed to combating the pandemic. In the long term, however, this hiatus should be followed by extensive public consultations so that the future of India’s institutions, heritage architecture, and historical collections can be determined through a democratic process.

We urge the Government of India to reconsider its misguided scheme.

Naman Ahuja, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Ernst van Alphen, Leiden University

Sean Anderson, Museum of Modern Art

Arjun Appadurai, New York University

Catherine Asher, University of Minnesota (emerita)

Frederick M. Asher, University of Minnesota (emeritus)

Sussan Babaie, Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Mieke G. Bal, Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA).

Tim Barringer, Yale University

Homi Bhabha, Harvard University

Bronwen Bledsoe, Cornell University

Sugata Bose, Harvard University

John H. Bowles, Writer and curator

Arpana Caur, Artist, Delhi

Prem Chandavarkar, Architect and independent researcher, Bengaluru

Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University

Divya Cherian, Princeton University

Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University

Asok Das, Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, Jaipur (retired)

Catherine David, MNAM-Centre Pompidou, Paris

Rohit De, Yale University

Vidya Dehejia, Columbia University

Chris Dercon, Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris

Faisal Devji, University of Oxford

Bernard Fibicher, Fine Arts Museum Lausanne

Supriya Gandhi, Yale University

Annapurna Garimella, art historian, Hyderabad

Alain George, University of Oxford

Ramachandra Guha, Historian and biographer

Narayani Gupta, Jamia Millia Islamia (retired)

Vivek Gupta, University of Cambridge

Navina Najat Haidar, Art historian and curator

Githa Hariharan, Writer

John Stratton Hawley, Barnard College, Columbia University

Andreas Huyssen, Columbia University (emeritus)

Kajri Jain, University of Toronto

Sir Anish Kapoor, Artist

Geeta Kapur, Art critic and curator

Sudipta Kaviraj, Columbia University

Madhu Khanna, Historian of religion and art

Rajeev Kinra, Northwestern University

Pradip Krishen, Filmmaker and environmentalist

Aparna Kumar, University College London

Glenn Lowry, Museum of Modern Art

Sir James Mallinson, SOAS, University of London

Saloni Mathur, University of California, Los Angeles

Rahul Mehrotra, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

A.G. Krishna Menon, Architect, urban planner, and conservation consultant

Parul Dave Mukherji, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Neeti Nair, University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Ashis Nandy, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

Gülru Necipoğlu, Harvard University

Francesca Orsini, SOAS, University of London (emerita)

Alka Patel, University of California, Irvine

Orhan Pamuk, Writer, Columbia University

Margrit Pernau, Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University

Gyan Prakash, Princeton University

Suhanya Raffel, M+ Museum, Hong Kong

Ram Rahman, photographer, SAHMAT (The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust)

Sugata Ray, University of California, Berkeley

Scott Redford, SOAS, University of London

D. Fairchild Ruggles, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Chaitanya Sambrani, Australian National University

G. M. Sheikh, Artist, Vadodara

Nilima Sheikh, Artist, Vadodara

Kavita Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University

Martino Stierli, Museum of Modern Art

Susan Stronge, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Vivan Sundaram, Artist, Delhi

Romila Thapar, Jawaharlal Nehru University (emerita)

Ananya Vajpeyi, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies

Ashok Vajpeyi, Poet, critic and essayist

James Wescoat, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (emeritus)

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