By Dr SS Bhatti
City Mirror News Network
Chandigarh: Chandigarh was built on the master plan developed in 1951 by Le Corbusier—and no one else has prepared another master plan since the inception of the city in 1951. This historical fact is a well-documented and recognised worldwide. However, when one looks at that ‘Perspective Plan for Chandigarh 2031’ one gets the wrong impression that it has been authored by the committee of architects and planners constituted by the Chandigarh Administration. The correct and unambiguous title would have been “Review of Le Corbusier’s Master Plan 1951”, to accomplish a task that had not been done before. There are many issues of far-reaching consequence but space constraint forbids me to dilate upon them just now. I would, therefore, restrict myself to the key points which warrant attention and corrective measures. I feel that the ‘draft master plan’ should have anticipated the problems Chandigarh is likely to face until 2031 and ‘Action Plan’ for their solution put in place, without reducing the name of Le Corbusier to a footnote of history. Confusion in authorship of the master plan would subsequently spring from the drawing titled “Perspective Plan of Chandigarh 2031” in which the space for signatures mentions designations of chief architect, senior town planner, divisional town planner, and assistant town planner—with the real master planner Le Corbusier figuring nowhere.
‘Preamble’ of the document also makes one apprehensive right from the beginning because under it is mentioned ‘Introduction’ that sets out the historical background of the Chandigarh Capital Project thereby creating avoidable confusion. A ‘preamble’ is akin to the preface of an Act of Parliament, or one in the case of Our Constitution, which gives reasons and purpose of the document that it introduces. And there is an intrinsic sacrosanctity about it. A ‘preamble’ remains put forever although many a section or clause in the document may be amended in the course of time.
Thanks to the intervention and insistence of the honourable Punjab & Haryana High Court on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that the so-called ‘Perspective Plan of Chandigarh 2031’ has come into being. This is a much-needed, long-awaited happening. Taken on its face value, the ‘master plan’ committee has done an excellent documentation, which serious researchers of human settlements would find worthy of scholastic enquiry and pragmatic application to the resolution of problems of modern urbanism. However, its usefulness abruptly ends there—and it begins to reveal materials and methods that would certainly be misleading. If this apprehension becomes a reality we would have committed a sacrilege to the adorable creation of Le Corbusier, the greatest architect of the 20th century, who gave us Chandigarh—the City Beautiful that had put India on the world-map of modern town planning and architecture as a “symbol of the nation’s faith in the future” as India’s First Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had succinctly proclaimed about its envisaged creation on ground.
Inconsistency is another problem caused by the fact that different chapters were reportedly written by different members of the committee which did not have a team leader to read the resulting writeup to establish continuity and remove contradictions. The third problem consists in the fact that the entire writing is either normative or prescriptive, and shies away in utter diffidence from drawing up an explicit ‘Action Plan’ to solve the problems which have surfaced and are likely to get aggravated further if left to themselves as seems to be the committee’s strategy. In this context one is sorely reminded of what Le Corbusier had lamented in his “Statute of Land” for Chandigarh: “The data concerning the dwellings was an artificial one: the charter of 13 categories! The city arising is one of 2 storeys which has brought many appreciable factors but which is now placed before the pressure of the city’s development it is: ‘what will be the future?’”
It must be said to the credit of the founding fathers that their vision was so clear and futuristic that even their assumptions have worked well. At its inception there was no time or occasion for undertaking fieldwork studies to prepare rational data for the city’s master plan. But now that we have the hindsight, resources, time, and well-established methods to identify and assess problems we have preferred to ‘draft’ the master plan sitting smugly in air-conditioned rooms. The fourth problem is that the entire writing tends to be speculative because scientific fieldwork has not been done to form a rational basis for making averments galore in the draft. Now that we have this document in hand, it is high time that we undertake fieldwork studies to draw up a concrete ‘Action Plan’ before ‘Chandigarh Master Plan 2031’ is notified by the Chandigarh Administration.
I did my doctorate on Chandigarh in 1991 on the basis of which I can vouch that this well-meaning exercise done by the Chandigarh Administration’s ‘master plan’ committee has come amiss because the method adopted by it was not right in the first place. We should have begun with Le Corbusier’s note dated 17 December 1959 that he had prepared for the establishment of the “Statute of Land” for Chandigarh in which he had described his ‘vision’ of life in the city, and the process by which its detailed physical fabric was to have been evolved. Defining the use of Chandigarh, the master architect has said: “(i) Chandigarh is a city offering all amenities of life to the poorest of the poor of its citizens to land and dignified life, and (ii) Chandigarh is a Government city with a precise goal and consequently a precise quality of inhabitants.” With his averments in view we should have started by asking: “Have these dictums been fulfilled in letter and spirit? If not, why?” And the ‘review’ of Le Corbusier’s master plan would have been undertaken on the basis of fieldwork to address the revealed problems squarely so that the stated ideals could be realised by a pragmatic ‘Action Plan’.
From there we could have moved on to examine how far the following dictum has been implemented in the growth of the City Beautiful: “The duty of an authority is to be honest; it is to control things which belong to a regime of rules (existing and understandable) which have to be created by the will of a collectivity.” It is not difficult to know that far from being vigilant we have been victims of laissez-faire but clever enough to quietly bury Le Corbusier’s sagely forewarning: “The problem is also to be vigilant: one must sell a true merchandise; nothing must be allowed to provoke circumstances which will bring loss to any single inhabitant.”
There are four historic documents authored by Le Corbusier: The Statute of Land, Three Human Establishments, The Edict of Chandigarh, and The Punjab Capital [i.e. Chandigarh] Periphery Control Act . I wish architects, planners, and administrators had studied them to monitor the growth of the City Beautiful on the guidelines that issue from the master architect’s farsighted concept of Chandigarh whereby it has become the ‘Mother City’ for such national capitals as Islamabad, Brasilia, Dacca, etc. And, finally, the future of Chandigarh rests with the powers-that-be as rightly foreseen by Le Corbusier: “One has the “Statute of the Land”. It is like a seed. What can be grown from the seed? It is in the hands of the Administrators.”
The intrinsic import of Le Corbusier’s quote that “revolutions are not made by doing big things; they are made by solving small problems” has been overlooked. However, if we could take a cue from perennial injunction of the master architect’s quoted pronouncement to accomplish effective harvesting of colossal quantum of rainwater in the 8-kilometre-long monsoonal gorge that runs through the Leisure Valley, and reroute the two National Highways 21 and 22 from out of Chandigarh, we would have made an historic achievement.
Apart from fulfilling the ideals stated in the ‘Statute of Land for Chandigarh’ we should wage an all-out war on encroachments and lack-lustre implementation procedures to save the City Beautiful from further deterioration. An effective method would be that the Central Government adopt Chandigarh as “National City” (which it originally was anyway!) and set up an autonomous Chandigarh Inter-Disciplinary Planning, Development & Monitoring Authority, with statutory powers, headed by a distinguished professional who has a holistic vision besides a working knowledge of wide-ranging disciplines. The Department of Urban Planning and the Engineering Organisation would work under the stated the Autonomous Authority. The Chandigarh Administration should only administer the city, besides providing development funds to this establishment. The inputs for development strategies, planning priorities, etc should come from the public in addition to the city’s elected representatives [e.g. Members of Parliament], civic authorities, and technocrats. The Municipal Corporation should look after the city services, their management and maintenance.
The Author is Former Principal, Chandigarh College of Architecture
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