India could learn from how Britain plans to refurbish its Parliament and decentralise its government.
Like India, the United Kingdom is doing a massive refurbishment of its 150-year-old Parliament. Planning has begun and work starts in 2025. It will take six years and cost £3-5 billion.
According to the Economist, Britain’s Parliament is “riddled with asbestos...broken windows...its spaghetti-like wiring a fire hazard”. Rebuilt in 1870 after a fire destroyed the older structure that had stood for 800 years, its meticulous upgrade will include drainage, electrical systems, heating, security, and ventilation. Both Houses of Parliament will shift to a specially outfitted temporary location.
As early as 1985, the National Capital Region Planning Board Act stated that no additional government building should be constructed in Delhi. In 2016, there was a push for a special zonal plan for the area because rational people understood an essential truth.1
Today, that government policy is a worthless piece of paper no one will talk about, least of all the Urban Development Ministry it was crafted under.
Instead, the overwhelming emphasis of the Gujarat model plan by architect Bimal Patel is that proximity equals efficiency. Therefore, it exhorts consolidation as key, to the extent that the Prime Minister’s house must also be part of this centralisation tsunami. To do this, the old “hutments” or barrack type single-level office structures around Raisina Hill will be removed. So will, it’s shockingly likely, other historic buildings and spaces like Baroda House and Jaipur House. Large, fairly bare spaces will face the full brunt of high-density office blocks.
In fact, the entire thrust of the Patel plan sees the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone and the Central Vista as a sum of all its parts rather than as a whole. It also doesn’t see the Lutyens’ Bungalow Zone as the heart and lung of the city it actually is.
- 1. Delhi is choking. Other cities desperately need reimagination to become regional magnets for local populations to stay there instead of heading to Delhi. A bloated government needs to move out. Secondly, the future is digital. Worldwide, offices are leaner, wired, and untethered to location. Thirdly, security wise, a tiny sliver of land overloaded with all the country’s decisionmaking command centres should not become a juicy enemy target.