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On fast track: a hall for President
- No more standing in the rain after Rashtrapati Bhavan gets a roomier venue

Set for new addition: Rashtrapati Bhavan

New Delhi, Dec. 19: Half-a-dozen building clearances in a week. Tender awarded on Tuesday and foundation stone laid on Wednesday.

President Pranab Mukherjee has stepped up the gas on a project that Pratibha Patil had conceived only to see it frozen for two years.

Come next year, Rashtrapati Bhavan is poised to get a new ceremonial hall that will be four times the size of any other at the 340-room mansion.

Every Independence Day, the President hosts over 1,000 people at an event called “At Home”, the guests including politicians, bureaucrats and journalists, among others.

But Ashoka Hall, the largest on the premises now, has a floor space of only 640sqm and can accommodate just about 400 people. So the event used to be held on the lawns — which meant a washout when it rained on August 15, 2010.

At 2,475sqm, the new hall will easily host 1,200 people. The structure, whose foundation stone Mukherjee laid yesterday, will have a 30-foot-high ceiling.

Ashoka Hall, built as a ballroom with a wooden floor, central dance space and three vestibules, has a ceiling painted in bright red and golden in a Persian style and depicts a royal hunt.

Initial plans had envisaged wooden flooring for the new hall, too, but this was later revised to granite stones. The idea is that if it rains, the President will not have to stand outside receiving the salutes of the horseback ceremonial guards — they can troop in, instead.

The fašade will be built in red sandstone — the same as the rest of Rashtrapati Bhavan — but the details of the interiors have not been decided yet.

Patil’s secretariat had set the ball rolling in mid-2011, expecting she would be able to lay the foundation stone before her tenure ended in July 2012. But the Prime Minister’s Office argued that the entire Rashtrapati Bhavan needed a “comprehensive conservation management plan” before any new structure could be built on its premises.

Intach, an NGO that works in the field of heritage conservation, was hired and handed in its report on June 26 this year. Once the decision to build the hall was taken, Mukherjee’s secretariat kept up the pressure on the central public works department to start in quick time.

The clearances came “in record time” from all the half-dozen agencies, including the Delhi Urban Arts Commission, New Delhi Municipal Council and the environment department, a senior urban development ministry official said.

Mukherjee wants the Rs 25-crore project wrapped up before July 25 next year, when he celebrates his second anniversary at Rashtrapati Bhavan.