Competition for designing a new capital for Chattisgarh, India
I made a submission recently, jointly with Christopher Benninger, for pre-qualification to design the new Capital for Chattisgarh. I am the only Indian Planner to have planned a new capital (for
Gujarat). Christopher has planned towns in Sri Lanka and India. Together, we are now preparing the plan for Bhutan's Capital, a commission won against a host of international firms including MIT (USA). Few would have such excellent credentials. The selection committee, while short listing consultants who have not prepared a single city development plan in India, rejected us! A coincidence perhaps that, years ago, I had declined to select one of the committee members to a HIGHER post in the Central Government service, as he had been earlier rejected for a LOWER post there itself!
A rare assignment to design a capital city will now be hogged by those trying to appear tall standing on the shoulders of "Foren" consultants! Recently, a Danish firm (its local office in Chennai run by an Indian civil engineer) was selected to prepare the structure plan for Hyderabad, rejecting among others, a proposal given by us. Lacking real competence for the job, it sub-contracted the work to a School of Planning! Realizing the true "worth" of the "Foren" firm perhaps, Government of Andhra Pradesh has now asked them to engage Christopher Benninger as an Advisor to oversee their work!
This dismal failure of the selection system is causing the profession, the art and the country an irreparable damage! Do qualities other than professional competence count most in consultancy selection? Can any honest planners then have faith in the dictum ‘merit shall prevail'? The tragedy is not this rejection of real merit; it is to be made a helpless witness to the banishment of the professional competence by the ‘Marketeer'! The outcome of Chattisgarh will show the true worth of the selected and the veracity of the judgment of the selectors. But this is not my first experience of inappropriate selection!
A few years ago, I was a candidate for the post of Professor and head of department of Architecture at M.S. University of Baroda and Director of School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. Settled in Baroda for three generations, I had hoped, given an opportunity, to bring up the Department of Architecture there to the national level and repay my debt to my ‘Gurus' Prof. Dave and Achwal. But despite the Vice-chancellor's inclination for my appointment, another Architect was selected. Devoid of commitment to education or a stake in Baroda, he kept the department in a limbo by taking up a job in USA without resigning his post in Baroda and dragging the matter in the law courts for years together! The department has never come out of the mire that it got into because of his selection!
At the interview in the Delhi School, I said that the Director should be a coordinator managing heads of departments. In the belief that the Director must provide academic leadership, a Professor was selected. The turbulent times the school went through as a result, is history. The School recently had a Director, who was more of a CAD expert! Bringing up and managing institutions is a different ball game and not every Architect or Planner's cup of tea! Qualities other than professional or academic excellence like; dedication to a cause, management skills and personal background, are more important in such assignments. That is why the IAS scores over the Technocrats. Yet, there is a tendency to apply a single parameter of architectural attainments for any type of assignment!
In retrospect, not joining the academia has in fact benefited me financially and professionally! But in the process, two good institutions almost went to dog. Not having been considered "eligible" for the school assignments, I thought that at least my proved and internationally accepted expertise in planning a new capital city and experience of 40 years in town planning would be recognized for the Chattisgarh assignment! For reasons best known to them, the selectors appear to have overlooked it!
If those who are eulogized as the "beacons" of light in this profession themselves fail to educate and guide the "powers", what would be the future of this profession and the country?