The historic walled city of Ahmedabad has a new addition to its legacy – a 1640 feet long brick wall in cold blood, a red carpet gesture to welcome the man who loves walls. 45 families have been issued eviction notices behind this wall. On the backside of the Sabarmati Ashram, a platform is being built so that the PM can show (at a safe distance) the entire stagnant pool of water at the 22.5 km long Sabarmati Riverfront promenade to the visitors ( the riverfront too had managed to evict slum dwellers in the past, during its construction ) . For the beautification of our streets, the slum dwellers have to be hidden. It is the poor that has given us a bad name, India after all is a rich country isn’t it?
Why is it that the ‘beautification’ of our spaces have lost contact with common people?
The war of ‘statues’ (most recent being a statue for Lord Hanuman by an AAP MLA) that appear every few months, renaming familiar locales and disputed religious spaces in our country, are the only sites that at the very least display any involvement of the common people in the public space discourse (or rather public exchange of abuses).
Today, the development that happens although in the name of progress, does not even use the popular euphemism of ‘betterment of the society’ but publicly parades itself as a sort of personal fulfillment for those in power.
The Central vista redevelopment which is the latest in the ‘leaving a personal mark’ paradigm of development in public spaces, has been criticized by several architects and environmentalists for its lack of public consultation and transparency. The bid for the project was won by Ahmedabad based HCP Design, Planning & Management Pvt.Ltd, the same firm that was responsible for Sabarmati Riverfront development during Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat. HCP is also assigned with PM’s dream project of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor development, where apart from shops and residences several ancient temples too have been demolished for ‘progress’. The proposed plan for the redevelopment of the Central Vista will restrict access to almost 75 percent of the space by forcibly taking it from the public. Although we cannot presume that the work will violate the heritage, there is insufficient particulars provided with regard to Heritage conservation and Environmental impact assessment. But having witnessed the demolition of Hall of Nations – to make way for a world class, iconic, state of the art Integrated Exhibition and Convention Centre (IECC) at Pragati Maidan – even after an international campaign to prevent its razing, having watched the crackdown on Aarey forests, the skepticism is expected.
Why is there an eternal animosity between development and conservation of our heritage and environment?
From Modi’s holding as the Chief Minister of Gujarat & then in continuity as the Prime Minister of India, the Gujarat model of development has been lauded (by the pro-industrialists of course) simply overlooking the lack of environmental oversight and displacement of the local people – from the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the Statue of Unity that overlooks the dam on the Narmada river. India was also ranked 177 out of 180 countries i.e the fourth worst in the world in 2018 for its environmental protection efforts. Although the previous governments too have spectacular scores in environment destruction, Narendra Modi started an all out war against the environment and yet was awarded with the UN’s highest Environmental award – recognised for a combination of ‘bold, innovative, and tireless efforts’ in environmental progress. Does progress not constitute – the past, the people and the planet?
Fathima Shirin is an architecture graduate from Srinivas School of Architecture, Karnataka. Shirin writes on architecture, development and culture.