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Delhi: Imperial Capital of British India

The foundation of Delhi was laid at the Coronation Durbar of 1911 by King George V as the Capital of British India. Prior to this Calcutta served as the capital.

Shifting of the Capital from Calcutta to Delhi was led by two major factors:

  • Indian Councils Act of 1909
  • The ongoing crisis caused by the Bengal partition.

The British wanted a place where the Government could spend all the seasons of the year. After examining various sites, Delhi was finalised as it was easily accessible and closer to the summer capital, Simla. The association of Delhi with the Mahabharata and the Mughal Empire symbolized both Hindu and Muslim pride. Therefore, on these geographical, political and historical grounds, Delhi was chosen as the new Imperial city.

 

The Delhi Town Planning Committee was set up in 1912 to plan, develop and design the major buildings like the Viceroy’s House, the Secretariat buildings and for other structural work connected with the aesthetics of the new city. Edwin Lutyens became a member of this committee in March 1912.

 

The Government of India wanted to hold a competition to select an architect(s) who could design the buildings for the new imperial city. This competition was open to all British subjects resident in India, Burma, Ceylon and the British Isles. At this point since the site was not selected, the layout of the city could not be fixed. It was desired that the general character of the architecture must incorporate traditions of Indian art and should harmonise with the monuments of Old Delhi.



 

His Excellency Lord Hardinge suggested taking the assistance of Mr Lutyens and Mr Baker in selecting and supervising the designs. On 8th May 1913 it was decided that they would no longer have a competition and that Messrs Baker and Lutyens will be employed as the principal architects and general architectural advisers.

 

The Committee wanted an area of 15 sq. miles for the cantonment and 10 sq. miles for the Imperial city.

The British took the following sites into consideration

  1. The land on the eastern bank of the Jamuna- This site was rejected because of a lack of historical affiliation and its vulnerability to frequent flooding.
  2. The site to the north of Delhi, on the west bank of Jamuna- This was the Durbar area which was already invested on and well connected with the Indian railways. When further investigated, the committee found that land acquisition and its treatment was costly.
    The ridge area was also discarded as no new buildings could be erected next to the Mutiny memorial. They believed that this area could be nothing more than a park.
  3. The western slopes of the hills in South of Delhi - This area was found to be rocky which runs out to Rohilla Sarai shutting out the view of Delhi and it had no historical significance.
  4. The Eastern slope of the hills to the south of Delhi - This site offered an unlimited area for expansion of building properties. The committee finally selected this particular site due to its physical sanitation, aesthetics and general consideration in its favour.

 


In its final report, the Delhi Town Planning Committee prepared a layout which divided the new capital into three main categories.. The first focused on the buildings that the Government would provide before the new city became the seat of the government, the second focused on the buildings that the Government could add later on to the new city and the third included the buildings that were to be constructed by private agencies. Priority was given to the first category and major projects that fell under this were:

  1. Government House
  2. The Secretariats
  3. Residence of his Excellency the Commander in Chief
  4. Residence of the Council Members
  5. Residence for clerks
  6. Construction of roads, water supply, drainage, parks, public gardens, open spaces, including arboriculture, railways.

Situated at the Raisina Hill, the Government House and the two Secretariat buildings were to be the Seat of the Government. The height of the Raisina Hill and the high ground behind it was seen as an advantage.


Lutyens and Baker incorporated Indian architectural elements in their buildings. Lutyens’ inspiration to build the Viceroy’s House came from Sanchi Stupa and its railings, and Baker, on the other hand, incorporated architectural elements like Chattris and Jalis. Parliament House designed by Baker, was initially not a separate building but a part of the Government House. It was called the Council Chamber. With an increase in the number of members, the Government felt the need to create a bigger building.

The layout of the new city included gardens, parks and fountains. Thirteen kinds of special trees were selected by the Committee for the avenues like Jamun, Neem, Imli, Arjan, Mulberry etc. These varieties were selected based on the idea that once planted and given sufficient water, they would require no costly upkeep.

The estimated cost of the project as of 1914 was Rs. 10,01,66,500 which increased significantly by the end of the project. The work was substantially completed by 31st December 1929. The first resident of the Viceroy’s House (today known as Rashtrapati Bhawan) was Lord Irwin. The new imperial city spanned across 6000 acres. It was finally inaugurated in 1931. It is today known as Lutyens Delhi.