Citing Pandemic, Artists Call for India to Halt Redevelopment of New Delhi

May 13, 2021

An international group of artists, curators, scholars, and historians signed a statement calling for the government of India to put an immediate halt to its Central Vista redevelopment plan in New Delhi in light of the public health emergency the nation faces as Covid-19 surges there a second time, The Hindu reports. Of particular concern to the signatories is the scheduled demolition of the National Museum, the National Archives, and the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, and the attendant relocation of the treasures contained therein in a responsible fashion.

“There was a clear logic in the urban planning of Delhi to keeping these cultural, archival and historical centres in close proximity to each other,” contend the missive’s authors. “The National Museum, in particular, has historical value and requires renovation and augmentation, not demolition. The rushed destruction of these structures will cause irrevocable harm to world-renowned institutions that have been painstakingly built over decades.”

Among the letter’s signatories are critical theorist and Harvard professor Homi K. Bhabha; Chris Dircon, president of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux–Grand Palais, Paris; Mumbai-born sculptor Anish Kapoor; Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; historian and Princeton University professor Gyan Prakash; Suhanya Raffel, director of the M+ Museum for Visual Culture soon to open in Hong Kong; New York–based critic and Columbia University professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak; and Delhi-based multimedia artist Vivan Sundaram.

Launched in 2019, the Central Vista redevelopment project aims to revamp India’s central administrative area, which is located near New Delhi’s Raisina Hill, home to the country’s most important government buildings. Groundbreaking for the $2.8 billion four-year plan, which includes the creation of a new common Central Secretariat housing all ministries, a new Parliament building, and new residences and offices for India’s vice president and prime minister, took place December 2020, just ahead of the pandemic.

“It is especially troubling,” note the letter’s signatories, “that this extravagant project is moving ahead in the midst of a devastating pandemic, endangering workers, and squandering scarce resources that could be used to save lives.”

India to date has reported 23 million Covid-19 infections, accounting for one in five active infections worldwide, and a death toll of more than 250,000.