Excerpt | The empire’s new seat

Excerpt | The empire’s new seat
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First Published: Fri, Aug 28 2009. 01 15 AM IST

New Delhi—Making of a Capital: By Malvika Singh, Rudrangshu Mukherjee; concept and visual research, Pramod Kapoor; Lustre Press/Roli Books; 239 pages; Rs1,975.
New Delhi—Making of a Capital: By Malvika Singh, Rudrangshu Mukherjee; concept and visual research, Pramod Kapoor; Lustre Press/Roli Books; 239 pages; Rs1,975.
Updated: Sat, Aug 29 2009. 12 22 PM IST
Looking for an appropriate site, the ‘expert committee’ had a gruelling schedule as they traversed the environs around Shahjehanabad and east of the Jumuna. Edwin Lutyens said about those forays, ‘fauna of all description, buck of all sorts, baboons, monkeys, jackals, hare, porcupine, water snakes, great fish, great tortoises which eat babies, snakes, bats, flying fox, vultures, weird birds and many lovely ones, a lizard of sorts, yellow and dry and three feet long. The elephant. Tigers at Jeypore, fresh caught and angry, a black panther, hyena and then a host of tame birds and animals.’ By the 2nd of May 1912, the committee was nearly convinced that the location should be south of Shahjehanabad, near the village of Malcha. Its altitude, water table, its virgin soil had passed muster for the future health of the proposed city in contrast to the area along the banks of the river, where flooding would be a problem; at the durbar site there was a paucity of land for expansion, and other real problems of drainage, sanitation, surface alignment, and the price of limited land.
Click here to view a slide show of Rashtrapati Bhawan, Connaught Place, India Gate -- all in the making
By December that year a controversy on the Delhi project had triggered a debate in the House of Commons where grieved architects and town planners used rumour to
New Delhi—Making of a Capital: By Malvika Singh, Rudrangshu Mukherjee; concept and visual research, Pramod Kapoor; Lustre Press/Roli Books; 239 pages; Rs1,975.
turn the mill and in the course of the debate in Parliament, the King questioned the appointment of Lutyens and George S.C. Swinton, asking for Henry Vaughan Lanchester to be sent to India. He demanded more information on the progress and plans and emphasized his desire to involve Indian craftsmen in the exercise and to give the design the appropriate aesthetic. At the same time, Sir Bradford Leslie, an engineer by profession and associated with projects in India, spoke at the Royal Society of Arts where he elaborated on an idea that became a serious point of discussion for a while. He suggested damming the river to create a lake to hold surplus water and then transform the swamp-like riverbed of the dry season—a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying malaria— into a parkland on the edges of the lake that would have bathing ghats. This too was raised in the Commons. Eventually, the expert committee rejected the proposal.
Lord Hardinge had surveyed the southern site from the top of the observatory, the Jantar Mantar, and appreciated the large tract of under-populated land that could be acquired more cheaply than that of the northern site. The southern area was relatively unencumbered with ruins of the past, relocation would not be a huge task there and it had ample space for the expansion of the capital. After much deliberation and considering the various ideas and suggestions, the expert committee and its multi-disciplinary advisers recommended the southern site where the new imperial capital would dominate the landscape.
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First Published: Fri, Aug 28 2009. 01 15 AM IST