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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Coronation Park: Monument to capital's civic neglect

NEW DELHI: It was to have been ready in time to commemorate the centenary of Delhi becoming the capital, but the historic coronation park, which once held the lavish durbar of King George V and houses stately statues and columns that are testimony to a bygone era, cries for a long-awaited makeover - thanks to bureaucratic lethargy and the incompetence of civic bodies.

The park, called Coronation Memorial, is situated in north Delhi, spread across 49 acres near Burari village. It is here that King George V announced the shifting of the British Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi Dec 12, 1911.

"The whole expanse is filled with pits and puddles. It is just a dusty open space with some donkeys braying, plants growing on plinths of century-old statues of British nobility. The ground is used for cricket matches by some youngsters in the neighbourhood," lamented Nanditha Gururaj, a heritage walk coordinator.

According to Gururaj, the park has huge tourism potential. "Braving the thorns, rubbish heaps and overgrown grass, tourists still visit the place as they want to see where the durbar was held and where New Delhi was proclaimed capital of British India," Gururaj told IANS.

"It is unfortunate that after several years, the park is yet to be ready and a tourism potential site has been in a state of neglect for decades," says a city-based historian.

The renovation of the park has missed several deadlines. "The park's conservation was first conceived in 2005. With six years left for the capital's 100th birthday, the government was confident about developing 'the junkyard of history' into a cultural centre for north Delhi," said an official at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach).

"After several hiccups and initial feet dragging by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the ownership of the park was shifted to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 2007. Intach and an NGO were asked to prepare a concept proposal," the official said.

Nearly two years after the initial talks, DDA and Intach's Delhi chapter joined together and a contract was signed at the end of 2009 for developing the park costing Rs.16 crore.

DDA set a deadline for the renovation work on Dec 12, 2011. But till date, the park is in shambles. According to DDA authorities, the renovation work will now be completed only until June 2012.

"We submitted a detailed facelift plan in April 2010. But DDA gave contracts for civil work only in July 2011 and they signed us for the conservation work only recently," the Intach official said.

The facelift work was divided in three major components - landscaping, interpretation centre and conservation of the coronation pillar and statues.

"Only 30 percent of the work has been completed. We started the work only in September last year, as the tender process for the project had taken several months. After three months, we were not able to work because of the rains. Since the soil was wet and loose during the rainy season, we had to extend our deadline from April to June 2012," a senior DDA official told media.

"Around 150 labourers are working daily on the park," the official said.

The official also informed that the conservation of statues and pillars takes time as they have to be cleaned with certain chemicals.

"The statues and the pillars have to be chemically cleaned. The renovation programme will take time. Cleaning, repairing and restoring the park which was left untouched for nearly a century is not easy. It takes time," said a DDA official.

The Convener of Intach's Delhi chapter, A.G.K. Menon, said, "It is disappointing that the park was not ready for the centenary, but we all know how the government system works. We cannot blame only the authorities, the whole system is slow."
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