Infrastructure and urban planning 

Chandigarh: Landscaping a New Capital

Maristella Casciato 

If Chandi, supreme goddess of the Hindu pantheon and the eponymous divinity of the city of Chandigarh, ever played a celestial role in the selection of the site of the eastern Punjab’s new capital, it was perhaps enacted in the way she repelled, with her many arms, the military and political vetoes that threatened to impede the definitive choice for the site.

After the August 1947 partition divided the region in half, Lahore, the ancient Mughal capital of Punjab, found itself in Pakistan, leaving the Indian portion of the state without a capital city. It thus was imperative to identify a new administrative center, the location of which became the subject of a contentious debate, beginning with proposals to transform existing cities, such as Amritsar, the holy Sikh city. And when the governments of East Punjab and India finally decided, in January 1950, to build a new city instead, what was first considered was a series of northern locations, with their views of the snow-clad mountains and where for centuries the aristocracy from the plains had passed their summers. But those proposals were discarded for a variety of strategic reasons, including the most significant: they were all too close to the new border of Pakistan. Only then did the Capital Project committee turn its attention to the site that would eventually be chosen.

Of the natural characteristics that had influenced the choice of the site, Mohinder Singh Randhawa – a botanist, native of the region, and inspired political figure who was chairman of the city’s Landscape Advisory Committee and who settled in Chandigarh in July 1953, soon after construction began – wrote: “Here the inner Shiwalik range rises into a hump which provides a striking background. The site has a gentle southern slope and a fertile soil exceedingly suitable for the growth of trees. It held promise of scenic beauty, imaginative landscaping and efficient drainage. On the site were a number of villages of industrious cultivators who raised bumper crops of sugarcane, wheat and tomatoes. Fertility of soil itself became a handicap for a while and a strong agitation developed among the villagers. Dr. Gopi Chand Bhargava who was the Chief Minister handled the agitation with tact. The villagers who were ousted were provided with land abandoned by the Muslim evacuees.”...

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