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GANDHI SAVES BUNGALOWS

Politician Sonia Gandhi has helped end years of concern surrounding some of the most important colonial buildings in India: the bungalow quarter of Edwin Lutyens' New Delhi.

Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress party, last year turned down the opportunity to become the country's prime minister.

However, she retains a huge amount of influence over current Congress prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and other political leaders - a position she has used to secure the future of Lutyens' bunglalows.

Pressure from Gandhi has now led the Prime Minister's Office to issue an all-important dictat declaring that all the bungalows should be left as they are and that the current conservation rules should be retained in their entirety.

Gandhi is known to have been deeply concerned over the future of the 1930s low-rise buildings, which are considered not only to be architectural gems but also a key move in the historic development of town planning.

The area, which is largely owned by the government and is home to many senior officials and army officers, is admired around the world for its layout and effective distribution of trees. In hotter seasons it is regularly several degrees cooler than the cramped districts that surround it.

However, successive Indian governments have attempted to weaken the protective rules that relate to all Lutyens' work in Delhi - rules that were introduced by Gandhi's late husband, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Two years ago it emerged that officials were drawing up plans to demolish up to 20 of the 100 bungalows and replace them with 'more efficient' building types (AJ 03.09.03).

Speaking at the time, Colin Amery of the World Monuments Trust said the potential demolition was horrifying. 'This is an awful thing to do, ' he said. 'There appears to have been very little thought given to what will replace them.' But, despite a concerted protest campaign by Western conservationists in tandem with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), it seemed that very little could be done to stop the plans, until Gandhi's pressure paid off with the recent dictat.

INTACH official OP Jain told the AJ that the move by the new Congress government had signalled an important change in fortune for the campaign to save New Delhi. 'Sonia Gandhi is more sensitive to these issues than many of the other politicians, who are largely rogues and cavaliers, ' Jain said.

'This is extremely good news, as there were a lot of plans for the redevelopment of the buildings, and the guidelines for the buildings' conservation were being reassessed all the time, ' he added.

Gandhi's all-important influence in the decision was also welcomed by the Lutyens Trust in Britain. 'She was an extremely influential presence in the background, ' trust member Margaret Richardson said. 'It is great that she is so aware of the importance of these wonderful low-rise buildings.'

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