For one, at least four of the six parks forming the C Hexagon are being fenced, modifying the openness of the grassy stretch. Of these, the children’s park was already a fenced area, while three constitute the National War Memorial. The “renovation” of the India Gate expanse is being carried out by the Central Public Works Department, but the mysterious unavailability of the war memorial blueprint has made it difficult even for official channels to ascertain whether the alterations are valid and permitted.
“Public spaces are very important for every city, and India Gate was always open for the use of Delhiites,” said Parul Awasthy, a 22-year-old student. “The point of a public structure should be accessibility and any fencing will defeat that purpose.”
Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) chairperson PSN Rao was unavailable for a comment, but the organisation’s secretary, Vinod Kumar, said, “While, the National War Memorial was cleared by DUAC, we will have to check whether fencing and related construction were part of the overall approval for the project.” Other commission members were also unclear about the details of the clearance granted for the project. However, sources in the heritage conservation committee told TOI that any approval given for India Gate pertained only to the war memorial project. “All development or constructions outside the war memorial space has not been approved by DUAC,” an official claimed.
CPWD said the fencing work was to give the entire area a uniformly aesthetic look. “A meeting held some time ago, chaired by the urban and housing affairs secretary and attended by DG of CPWD and secretary of DUAC, discussed these proposals and all participants agreed to the proposals,” claimed Rajeev Jain, spokesperson, CPWD.
Architects and planners are strongly opposed to any fencing at India Gate. “India Gate is a space that allows Delhi’s people a unique sense of shared democracy,” declared Jasleen Waraich, chairperson, Delhi-NCR Chapter, Indian Institute of Landscape Architects. “Whether you look at it symbolically or visually, any restrictive boundaries go against what India Gate stands for.”
While he believed the fencing is being extended for uniformity of design around the war memorial, Arunav Dasgupta, head of urban design at School of Planning and Architecture, added, “So far it looks harmless, but where will this lead to? Where there is fencing, there will eventually be gated and restrictive access. India Gate’s original character will then be altered.”
Many urban experts felt that the government should not have chosen India Gate as the site for the war memorial because security concerns would have bound the civic agencies to opt for fencing. As one planner rued, “A memorial to the martyrs could have come up anywhere in the city. India Gate, where people roamed without restrictions, is now a thing of the past.” No wonder architect Pradeep Sachdeva, who is currently working on the Chandni Chowk redevelopment plan, was left remarking, “Nothing should have stood in the way of India Gate retaining its character of being free, accessible and democratic for all people.”
India Gate honours the death of Indian soldiers in pre-Independence days. The new war memorial will commemorate the deaths of over 22,600 soldiers after 1947. In 2012, the then United Progressive Alliance government sanctioned the plan for the project, but it was only in 2015 that the Narendra Modi government called for designs from global architecture firms.
(with additional inputs)