As Delhiites question the undisclosed grandiose rebuilding plans for their city, it’s time for the Delhi Urban Art Commission to stop behaving l

Tall buildings on Barakhamba Road.
Tall buildings on Barakhamba Road. © Vanlal Tochhawng/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


The DUAC has a small permanent office, and a large hall, like a court of justice. The (honorary) members meet as frequently/rarely as the chairman and secretary decide. In the large and gloomy conference room, the clock stands at ten to three, and there are kaju biscuits still for tea (with apologies to Rupert Brooke).

Some things have changed. Technology, they will point out eagerly, has moved on. The little dollhouse models and ammonia blueprints have been replaced by Powerpoint presentations. The language, too, has changed. Phrases like ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘footfalls’ are used in a throwaway fashion.

The real nuggets are again throwaway comments – by  chairmen or members whose long innings have made them reflective or, as with Charles Correa, whose charisma lay in their effortlessly drawing upon their knowledge of literature, philosophy, film and design. The tragedy is that these are lost in a situation where the person addressed is impatiently waiting to know the decision. A less daunting setting would help, and so would a viewing gallery, where visitors can watch the proceedings.

The DUAC has over the decades become yet another body which ‘approves’ plans, and has no time for reflection or to “advise the government”. Through the last 44 years, five wise men (later also some women) have sat through long afternoons scrutinising plans for public buildings and large housing projects. This is in two stages: first, when proposed; then some months later, when they arrived more confidently, having been approved by a host of other committees. It will be immediately obvious that stage one is where intervention is possible. At stage two, all that can be done is to suggest some twiddly little modifications.

Discussions are long but the actual impact on the city’s form is often quite forgettable and, sometimes, unattractive. Much gets lost between the discussion and its reduction to ‘minutes’. The time-lags between the submission of proposals and the discussion on them, and from then to the actual approval/rejection, make it difficult to track them. The tactics of delay resemble those of a government department.

Nobody loves an art commission.