This week, while we were all consumed by whether the Olympic torch would
make its way safely past India Gate (built by Edwin Lutyens to honour
the 84,000 Indian soldiers who died in World War I), the Army Chief was
making a trip down the same road. He was on his way to meet the Urban
Development Minister, probably wondering — as many of his predecessors
had before him— whether he would have any luck convincing this
government to do, what the British had already done as far back as 1921.
He was carrying a file that has now travelled through multiple
ministries for seven years: the plans and architectural designs for a
National War Memorial.
For the last two years, different government bodies including the Delhi
Urban Arts Commission, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) and the
Heritage Conservation Committee have squabbled like recalcitrant
children over whether the designs for the memorial are tenable. Could
anything be a more shocking illustration of the stranglehold of red-tape
around what should have been a flagship project for any government?
The designs for the memorial (the proposal is to build the structure
around the canopy at India Gate) have been created by Charles Correa,
easily one of India’s most venerable architects. Yet ask officials what
has held up the green signal, and they will tell you it is a “lack of
consensus” over how high the walls of the memorial should be. Have you
heard of anything more ludicrous?