ON MONDAY, just a day before the Budget session of Parliament begins, officials of all finance ministry departments had a get-together at the historic Great Hall which is often used as a common passage to cross from one side of North Block (finance ministry ) to other side (ministry of home affairs). Those who were present included expenditure secretary Ratan P Watal, DEA secretary Shakti Kanta Das, revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, disinvestment secretary Neeraj Kumar Gupta and chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian among others. The occasion was the launch of an exhibition on coins and currency in India, but it was during the function, senior finance ministry official and 1979 batch ICAS officer Mohan J Joseph…presented his book titled ‘Sentinels of Raisina Hill’ co-authored with former Union home secretary Dhirendra Singh to finance minister Arun Jaitley.
Joseph who had earlier served as DG in Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), as additional secretary in ministry of finance and also had a stint in the IMF, is now the Controller General of Accounts in ministry of finance.
The 144-pager book, ’Sentinels of Raisina Hill’, published in 2012, is the first ever coffee table publication devoted exclusively to the North and South Blocks, the latter comprises offices of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), ministry of external affairs (MEA) and ministry of defence.
The book not only captures the architectural features of the secretariat which houses 700 high-ceiling rooms, but also traces the history of the architectural traditions.
Unlike other coffee-table books which reply on photographs, this book uses high quality black and white sketches of architectural details of both the exteriors and interiors of the buildings. Archival prints of several older buildings supplement the sketches. The sketches are done by Delhi-based artist Vikram Kalra.According to an earlier news report on the book, the authors during the research visited School of Planning and Architecture library (it still has North and South Blocks architect Herbert Baker's memoirs), Central Secretariat (Lord Hardinge's memoirs), and also managed to get a copy of Mary Lutyens' biography of her father, Edwin Lutyens, the key architect who shaped the modern-day Delhi.
Significantly, it was Joseph, one of the authors and a serving finance ministry official, who spotted the first stones of New Delhi, laid by King George V and Queen Mary. For the record, the capital of India was shifted from Kolkata to New Delhi in 1911. The stones were, in fact, locked-up in two chambers of the North and South Blocks. And the keys of those chambers were not available!