Demolition of the Hall of Nations signals a failure to engage with history and public memory.

Written by Rohit Raj Mehndiratta | Published:May 17, 2017 12:08 am


The death of the Hall of Nations may well be the death of the government’s slogan “Made in India” — a hollow promise that engages with history and memory on its own terms. What are also dead are institutions such as the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) and the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) that were meant to protect our history, environment and public memory.

The DUAC has let go of its power and belief that an environment can be protected and transformed. Chapter Three of the DUAC Act 1973 clearly describes the commission’s advisory role in preserving Delhi’s aesthetic quality. “It is their duty to scrutinise, approve, reject or modify proposals in respect of the following matters, namely re-development of areas in the vicinity of Old Fort (among other areas); conservation, preservation and beautification of monumental building,” the chapter states. “The commission may suo motu promote and secure the development, re-development or beautification of any areas in Delhi in respect of which no proposals in that behalf have been received from any local body,” it continues.

The proposal it did not receive was a scheme that could have preserved the Hall of Nations while achieving the India Trade Promotion Organisation’s (ITPO’s) ambition of an “integrated exhibition and convention centre”. It seems that the DUAC had the power and opportunity to bring everyone on the same table with the intention of ensuring an amiable outcome.

Raj, at the age of 93, would have happily worked with the government. When it was brought to his attention that tunnelling may be the reason for the demolition of the structure, he immediately drafted a letter to the ITPO, stating that the Hall of Nations was built on pile foundations and a solution to meet the infrastructure needs could be thought of. Alas, it was a bit too late because in the rush to achieve mediocrity, ITPO demolished the structure the next day. As Anand Bhatt, an architect and supporter of finding the middle-ground, once stated, we are missing the fact that tunnelling under the Hall of Nations may be a great engineering feat also.

We, as a society, had an opportunity to show globally that great buildings can be preserved and re-used. Instead, our great modern works are all endangered. The HCC’s proposal is repudiated by the UNESCO’s definition of “heritage” and heritage bodies. To be part of the world heritage list, UNESCO states that, “sites must be of outstanding universal value meeting at least one selected criteria.”

The Hall of Nations meets at least four criteria: “A masterpiece of human creative genius”; “a unique or… exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition”; “an outstanding example of a type of building which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”; “directly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs”. With the Hall of Nations, the idea of nation-building was envisaged through the power of engineering and technology.....