“We are being ruled by people who are, let’s say, architecturally illiterate.” says Raj Rewal
It doesn’t take much to get Arun waxing lyrical about his Uncle’s work.
“This building has a deep structure that is embedded in the structure of Delhi, which is a persistence of form, of space, which he sort of reinvented in a very modern way,” he says. “It’s a building typology—that buildings can share the same root. They can have an embedded idea that is similar, which shares with its traditional, cultural past. But it’s also anew that you can transform.”
The Nehru Pavilion—another Pragati Maidan building currently under threat—was inspired by the ancient stupas, structures that house Buddhist relics and are used for meditation. The pavilion was built as a museum to celebrate the life and times of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, was Prime Minister when the pavilion was built.
“It was a big thing, you know. Delhi had fairs before, but this got people together. It was a peek into the modern times, a different world, different countries,” recalls the younger Rewal. “In those days, things were sort of tight and close. It wasn’t a globalized world, you weren’t traveling and getting onto planes,” he adds.
But times have changed, and the India Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO)— the arm of India’s Ministry of Commerce & Industry which runs Pragati Maidan—is seeking to attract global engagement with the site in new ways. Their plans involve the creation of a new Integrated Exhibition Convention Center (IECC), a parking facility to ease congestion in the area, and a 500-room hotel. The project is expected to cost almost $350 million, and the ITPO hopes the venue might host the G20 in 2019.
“We do not have any convention and exhibition facilities of international standards [in the heart of Delhi]. I’m confident that if this comes up in the next 24-to-30 months, all these events happening [elsewhere in Asia] will be attracted here,” says L.C. Goyal, the ITPO’s Chairman and Managing Director.
The Rewals and their supporters argue the new facilities could be built without tearing down the old ones, which they say occupy less than two percent of the total site. But the ITPO says the buildings are dilapidated, and is pushing forward. A theater opposite The Hall of Nations, which screened films between 1981 and 2012, has already been torn down, as have a few other buildings added to the site over time.
Efforts to stop the demolitions have not gained much traction. In 2013, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) compiled a list of 62 structures—including The Hall of Nations and the Nehru Pavilion—it felt should be protected and classified as ‘modern heritage.’
The organization’s ongoing plea against the demolitions will next be heard in the Delhi High Court on April 17, but as far as the ITPO’s Goyal is concerned, there’s nothing much left to discuss. “These buildings are not classified as heritage buildings. Therefore there is no bar on demolishing these buildings,” he points out. “The entire process has been gone through, relevant bodies have had a look at it. I mean, there’s just no argument.”
Goyal also notes the new plans—which he refers to as ‘the most modern,’ ‘world class,’ and ‘iconic’—have been approved by the HCC and the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC).