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Sun sets on the bungalows of the British Raj

By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi

The Lutyens bungalows of Delhi have housed the country's most important ministers, bureaucracy babus and other important people ever since the city was declared the capital of British India.

Now, it seems the buildings are about to go the same way as the empire.

Engineers have proposed tearing down the buildings and replacing them with something more modern. The reason? The buildings are in an increasingly poor state of repair.

"These bungalows were constructed in the 1920s and were originally conceived as temporary structures. They were supposed to have a maximum life span of between 30 and 40 years," said Amarnath Chakraborty, head of India's Central Public Works Department (CPWD). "[Most] are more than 70 or 80 years old, and have outlived their tenure. Ideally, they should be pulled down and reconstructed."

Having decided in 1911 to move its colonial headquarters from Calcutta to Delhi, the British Raj set about designing a capital city that reflected its perceived power and grandeur.

The task fell to the British architect Edwin Lutyens, later knighted for his work in Delhi, and to a lesser extent Herbert Baker. By 1915 the ambitious plan for Delhi had been finalised.

Yet the work started against a backdrop of the First World War and the original budget had to be reduced. Hence the temporary nature of the buildings designed to house the empire's officials.

According to the Indian Express, the CPWD is surveying the bungalows, of which there are more than 800, and is preparing a report about their condition that will be forwarded to the office of the Prime Minister. The commission's main recommendation is that the buildings – made with mud and lime mortar – be razed and that new buildings, in a similar style, be put up in their place. Because of their historic status, the Prime Minister's office will have the final say.

The poor condition of the bungalows has long been recognised but the issue apparently came to a head after plaster began falling from the one used as the official residence of the minister for petroleum and natural gas, Murli Deora.

"These structures are hazardous," one official said. "Parts of the bungalows are likely to fall apart. We can no longer just strengthen them."

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