Delhi

Is the NDMC Really Dismantling the Steel ‘Sprouts’ at AIIMS?

Considered a corporate-sponsored eyesore by many when they first popped up, the Sprouts have become firmly rooted in Delhi’s landscape.
Dilliwala Bipin Mehto has grown attached to Sprouts.

On Monday, the Hindustan Times reported that the stainless steel installation called “Sprouts”, outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) intersection in South Delhi, will soon be “dismantled.” The report quoted “officials familiar with the development”, as well as Naresh Kumar, chairperson of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) who said, “As per the new plan, a large muti-layered [sic] fountain will be created with the installation of an artefact or some iconic figure at the top. The work will start at the site soon. We are expecting to complete it by August 15.”

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VICE visited the NDMC on Tuesday to find out just whose iconic statue was coming up at the intersection. Chhatrapati Shivaji? BR Ambedkar? Sardar Patel? Maybe RK Laxman’s Common Man? When we met Naresh Kumar, however, he did a volte-face. “I don’t know why they published this,” he said, referring to the Hindustan Times report. “We are not dismantling. The question is to improve upon the existing design. It is still in the process.” Kumar didn’t want to discuss the matter further.

We checked with HT’s seasoned municipal reporter, who stood by her story.

The Sprouts have been hotly debated ever since they came up around 2008, after being bogged down for months in belated permission applications from the Delhi Urban Arts Commission. Designed by artist-cum-lighting designer Vibhor Sogani (he recently designed a 30-foot steel tree in Ahmedabad), the Sprouts were funded by Jindal Stainless to the tune of Rs. 4 crore, with a Rs. 1.5 lakh maintenance cost per month. In fact, the company, which was originally awarded a lease to manage the space for five years, just tweeted about them earlier this month:

(Another Jindal concern, Naveen Jindal’s Flag Foundation of India, pushed through its giant flagpole in the heart of Delhi in 2014, despite issues with the NDMC.)

When the Sprouts were finally completed, reactions were mixed. In city magazine Time Out Delhi’s 2010 arts survey, 60 percent of anonymous respondents from the art world thought they should be uprooted and, “thrown into outer space”. Enthusiasts rooted for them, arguing that “Anything that incites people to such an extent had got to be good,” and “They’re signs for Martians that there’s life on earth.”

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This isn’t the first time there’s been talk about weeding. In 2009, there was a proposal to “diminish the prominence of the structures in that busy traffic hub,” because the light reflecting off them distracted motorists. Sheila Dikshit, then Chief Minister, visited with horticulture experts to see if lemongrass plants around the sprouts would make them “more amenable to the eye.”

Whatever’s in store for the Sprouts, it’s clear that over the years, Delhi has grown fond of the “AIIMS sperm bank”. Some expressed their grief on Twitter, while others started a Change.org petition to “Protect the ‘Steel Sprouts’”.

We went to the flyover on Monday to ask the men in the park their opinion. Many felt nostalgic. A few were clicking selfies, others were lazing near the thin shafts. The sun was setting and families of patients admitted nearby at AIIMS and Safdarjung Hospitals were starting to trickle in, some to sleep there. Some said dismantling of the structure would make the park look ugly, others said it wouldn’t affect their life.

Gautam Kumar, 32

Gautam Kumar and his son Divyanshu.

“I’ve been here in the city for 12 years. I came here to show this to my son, who is eight. He wanted to take a picture here. Woh zid kar raha tha. [He was fixated on it.] This shouldn’t go. Children come here to play, tourists come here too.”

Bipin Mehto, 50

Relaxing by the Sprouts.

“This thing looks good. Everyone comes here.”

Vikram Indraprakash, 38

Greetings, Earthlings.

“I’m an ambulance driver at Safdarjung Hospital. This is a badiya cheez [awesome thing]. If you remove it, how will it look?”

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Suresh Kumar, 32

Who cares what it means? Not Suresh Kumar.

“It looks good. I don’t know what this is, or what this means. But if anything else comes up here, that too will look good.”

Ravinder Kumar, 29

These balls have no bearing on Ravinder Kumar's life.

“I am visiting my friend in the hospital. It won’t affect me any which way. It has no impact on my life.”

Shoaib Khan, 22

A regular visitor.

“I’m a plumber. I keep coming here every other day. If they remove it, this will look ugly.”

Follow Maroosha Muzaffar on Twitter.