An excerpt from Swapna Liddle’s ‘Connaught Place’ on how the current location and design of India’s capital were chosen in 1912.
In a letter to Reginald Craddock (who had succeeded Jenkins as Home Member) he went so far as to remark, “In my opinion there has been a singular lack of common sense in the plans of the Delhi Committee.” Craddock agreed with Hardinge, commenting, “I think Lanchester is worth all the experts put together,” and suggesting that he be given a permanent assignment and the services of the committee dispensed with.
Though this was not done, and Lanchester had to be content with his one month in India, during that period he worked furiously, in consultation with Hardinge, to prepare a series of alternate plans. In the light of Lanchester’s inputs, Hardinge rejected most of Lutyens’ suggestions.
One of the issues that had to be tackled was the alignment of the main avenue of the city (what we know today as Rajpath). Lutyens had designed this to lead from the Viceroy’s residence (now Rashtrapati Bhavan), which was located at Malcha, to Jama Masjid. This avenue terminated at the southwest corner of the mosque, which was a blank wall at the rear, hardly a very pleasing prospect for the main street of the imperial city. In addition, in the path of this proposed avenue lay the populous settlement of Paharganj.
The main axis of the new capital, as planned, would necessitate the clearing of this land. This would be not only an expensive proposition, as land prices were high, but a move that would be unpopular with its 35,000-odd inhabitants.
Lutyens’ grid plan, too, was discarded, in favour of one which incorporated a mix of straight, curving and radial roads. His suggestion that the ceremonial avenue be lined with the palaces of the maharajas, with huge frontages and imposing gates, was also considered impractical.
Among the committee’s sins of omission had been their failure to take into account some important pre-existing religious structures – two Hindu temples fell in the path of the originally proposed central avenue, and the Idgah in the middle of one of the proposed roads. It was politically inexpedient to demolish these. In the reworked plan, not only were these preserved, but other existing monuments such as Humayun’s Tomb and Safdarjung’s Tomb were incorporated as terminal points of important avenues.
Hardinge was himself responsible for one important decision – the precise orientation and location of the Viceroy’s residence, or Government House. Lutyens’ plan to have the house look down the ceremonial avenue to the back of Jama Masjid, was abandoned. Instead, the orientation of Government House and the ceremonial avenue was turned to squarely face Purana Qila, with a view of the Jama Masjid to the left, and Safdarjung’s Tomb to the right, so that the “view would comprise all the ancient monuments and objects of historic interest in one comprehensive panorama”. This was a principle on which Lanchester and Swinton agreed, though, as Swinton put it, “Lutyens, of course, has little sympathy with these remains.”