NEW DELHI: The sound of hammers will dominate the weekends at the South Block, which is all set to get a face-lift soon. Quite literally, a demolition squad has reached the hallowed sandstone precincts from where the country is governed and its foreign policy is shaped.
Believe it or not, there are “unauthorised structures” in the South Block, which among other high-profile ministries also houses the PMO. As the vans of Central Public Works Department (CPWD) roll in and take out their equipment, structures which were neither part of the original plan nor contributed to the prestige, beauty or power of the South Block, flanking the Rashtrapati Bhawan, are set to be torn down.
The new government, helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has ordered the restoration work at the end of which there might be a green vista or a fountain, as it was originally imagined and designed by Herbert Baker. Over the years, “space crunch” had forced the powerful Foreign Office that sits next to the PMO to add on “ugly eyesores in the South Block”. Now, all that would be removed. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is driving the plan, overseen by Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who is being backed by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.
While the facade of the sandstone edifice has remained intact, lots of changes have been made inside the walls -- a consequence of the bureaucratic machinery becoming bigger and bigger. The hammer has been taken at two blocks built over the years on the two courtyards, one of which is two-storied high. While structures are freestanding, they are linked to the main corridor through metal bridges.
With nearly 20 rooms, the structures housed important officials and divisions till a few weeks ago. They include the secretary (east) and the territorial divisions of Eurasia, Gulf and even Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran.
Besides the MEA, there were also some officials from the Army Headquarters, for which a joint meeting was taken with the Ministry of Defence for the project.
It would take a month to completely demolish the structures, as only weekends are being used to bring in heavy machinery for the work -- so as not to disrupt the South Block functionaries at work.