How Delhi's heritage was destroyed to create new marvels

The site where the Hall of Nations once stood. In all, 10 halls, 23 state & 4 central government pavilions will be pulled down by June 15. Photo: Dalip Kumar
When you think of Pragati Maidan, what pops up is an image of the Hall of Nations. But the iconic building that had stood there for 40 years was consigned to history last month, along with several other structures. What led to the demolition was the unsuitability of many of these buildings for air-conditioning. Besides, India Trade Promotion Organisation, or ITPO, the owner of Pragati Maidan,  says some of them were in a bad shape. 

While reasons abound, the architect of the Hall of Nations, Raj Rewal, says the demolition is akin to the “destruction of Bamiyan Buddha in Afghanistan”, and blames ITPO of wiping out an essential part of the country’s modern architectural history. Some even see it as an attempt by the National Democratic Alliance government to wipe out the landmarks created by Congress prime ministers. 

The entire demolition exercise, which includes pulling 10 halls, 23 state and four central government pavilions down, will be completed by June 15. 

L C Gupta, chairman and managing director, ITPO, says: “There is not an iota of truth in this (wiping out Congress history). I appreciate the sentiment, but I am adding to the modern architecture and design by creating something that will add to the stature and grandeur of Delhi.” 

Getting a makeover

The demolition is the starting point for a massive redevelopment of Pragati Maidan that spreads across 123 acres right in the heart of Delhi. “The buildings that are being brought down came up during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Together, they have a seating capacity for 1,000 to 1,500 people, and parking space for 400 to 500 cars. The facilities were grossly inadequate and were long overdue for upgradation,” adds Gupta. He says there is a need to create infrastructure to host international events, given that the exhibition industry is growing at a rate of 17 to 18 per cent annually.

Seven new halls with a combined space of 1.46 lakh square metre will be built. These halls will have dedicated space for exhibition, food and beverage and pre-function events. Four of these halls will be contiguous with 25,000 square metres of space each built over two levels. Another 50,000 square metres will be available in the remaining three halls. “These halls have been designed to cater to small, medium and big exhibitors,” says Goyal. Besides, there will be 50 acre of exhibition space in the open. In the second phase, halls 7 to 12 (A) with 22,000 square metres of space, will be taken up for construction.

Linking these halls to the metro station will be a skywalk. The showpiece of the complex, however, will be a convention centre spread across 50,000 square metres with a seating capacity for 7,000, nearly five times that of Vigyan Bhawan. Alongside will be a basement parking of 1.66 lakh square metres for 4,800 vehicles. ITPO plans to soon unveil the conceptual model for the convention centre that will match the adjoining buildings and incorporate local aesthetics.

An essential feature of this redevelopment will be an underground tunnel that will cut across the basement parking. The tunnel will originate at Mathura Road, run under the Pragati Maidan complex and connect the other end at the Ring Road. This component of the project will cost Rs 800 crore but will be separately funded by the ministry of urban development under an existing scheme. The plan is designed to decongest traffic during fairs and will be undertaken in tandem with the redevelopment work inside the complex itself.

The half-demolished Delhi pavilion. In all, 10 halls, 23 state & 4 central government pavilions will be pulled down by June 15. Photo: Dalip Kumar
Though the plan to redevelop Pragati Maidan has mooted first in 2012 itself, the work gathered momentum after clearance from the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in January this year. Now, National Buildings Construction Corporation, the project management consultant, has floated the global request for proposals for contractors. The vendor is expected to be in place by next month. The target is to complete the convention centre by December 2018, and the entire complex by July-August 2019.

The deadlines appear ambitious but with all clearances in place, Goyal is confident of meeting the target. The layout plan has been prepared by New Delhi-based Architects in Co-Partnership (Arcop) and Aedas. Arcop has to its credit projects like the Terminal 3 at the Delhi airport and Medanta Hospital in Gurugram.

The cost of the plan

The entire first phase of the Integrated Exhibition cum Convention Centre, excluding the Rs 800-crore tunnel to decongest traffic, is expected to cost Rs 2,254 crore. No government funding will, however, be provided for the project. According to Gupta, ITPO will use its reserves of about Rs 1,200 crore for the redevelopment. Additionally, it plans to monetise 3.7 acres of land where a hotel is planned.

ITPO will soon be seeking another Cabinet clearance for the purpose which will allow it either to sell the land on free-hold basis or give the land on perpetual lease. The plot on which the hotel is expected to come up is at the corner of the complex with entry and exit from Bhairon Marg. “There will be an auction for the plot and whatever money is raised through it will be utilised for redevelopment,” says Gupta. In May 2016, ITPO got the land use changed for the plot to enable the construction of a hotel there.

The remaining funds for the project, after monetisation of the land for the hotel and using internal reserves, will be raised as the loan that will have the government guarantee. Currently, ITPO makes about Rs80 crore profit every year, but it expects its revenue to rise with the new centre, and the money coming in will be utilised to service the loan. Gupta expects the payback period to be seven to nine years. ITPO plans to undertake a marketing exercise before the project is ready so that enough business is generated from the start itself.

While the redevelopment work is under way, ITPO plans to continue with its flagship event, the India International Trade Fair, though on a smaller scale. Since state pavilions are being pulled down, temporary enclosures will be provided to them and once the redevelopment of the exhibition space is completed, similar space will be given to the states on same terms and conditions.

Goyal says the larger goal of the redevelopment project is to create a space that will enable India to host big international events and conferences. One such big show which India has its eyes set on is the G20 meeting in 2019. If all goes well, the redevelopment project could create many a shining new marvel for the city.

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