SOBHĀ SIṄGH, SIR (1890-1978), the single largest builder and real estate owner of New Delhi, was the elder of the two sons of Sujān Siṅgh, the younger one being Ujjal Siṅgh who made himself famous as a Punjab parliamentarian. Sobhā Siṅgh was born in the village of Haḍālī in Khushāb, district Sargodhā, now in Pakistan. After a few years at school in Amritsar, he joined his father's business, supervising the laying of railway tracks and the digging of tunnels.

        Father and son shifted to Delhi when the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, announced that the Coronation Durbār for King George and the Queen would take place in Delhi in December 1911. This meant the shifting of the Indian capital from Calcutta to Delhi. Sobhā Siṅgh and his father decided to move to Delhi as building contractors. Building contracts then were going a begging, and the Sujān Siṅgh--Sobhā Siṅgh team were readily accepted as senior grade contractors. Plans for the crew city were drawn up immediately after the Coronation Durbār.

        Foundation stones had already been laid by the King and Queen. But the architects, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker at the head of the team of town planners, said that the site where the foundation stones had been laid was unsuitable and that it would have to be Rāisīnā hill and the village of Mālchā. The first task for Sobhā Siṅgh was to uproot the foundation stones under cover of darkness and take them 11 km across the city and replant them on the new sites chosen for them. Although the blueprints submitted by Lutyens and Baker were soon approved, the construction could not be taken up until after World War I (1914-18).

        For the South Block, Sobhā Siṅgh was chosen to be the sole builder. In addition, he received contracts for some parts of the Viceregal House (now Rāshṭrapati Bhavan) and Vijaya Chowk. Another major building that fell to his exclusive share was the War Memorial Arch (India Gate).

        Sobhā Siṅgh had great faith in the future of the new city. Perhaps that is why while others were reluctant to buy land and build their own houses in what was then only a barren wasteland, he bought as much land in Delhi as he could. He bought several extensive sites at as little as Rs 2 per square yard, freehold. There were few other takers, and he came to be described as ādhī dillī kā mālik (the owner of half of Delhi). What Sobhā Siṅgh accomplished in New Delhi constitutes a very impressive list of buildings and houses. Besides, several residential and commercial houses built on his own sites, he raised the Chelmsford Club, A.I.F. A.C.'s Hall, Broadcasting House (All India Radio), the National Museum, Dyāl Siṅgh College, T.B. Hospital, Modern School, Deaf and Dumb School, Red Cross Buildings and Baṛodā House. Outside Delhi, he built the High Court and Medical College at Nagpur and the Pasteur Institute at Kasaulī.

        Sobhā Siṅgh's success as a builder made him one of the wealthiest persons of Delhi; also, a prominent member of the social elite. He was only modestly educated. Despite this handicap, he became the first Indian president of the New Delhi Municipal Committee. He was knighted by the government and appointed a member of the Council of States. He entertained lavishly and his guest lists always included a mixture of dignitaries from the local circuit as well as from the diplomatic corps. These weekly banquets became the talk of the city. Sobhā Siṅgh left the greater part of his private estate to a charitable trust and presided over some of the institutions funded by it like the Deaf and Dumb School and the Modern School. Among his last bequests was one for Bhagat Pūran Siṅgh's Piṅgalvāṛā in Amritsar, home for lepers.

        Sir Sobhā Siṅgh had four sons and a daughter by his wife, Lady Vīrā Bāī (Varyām Kaur). Writer and author, his son "KS" has made himself known the world over for his audacious and fresh style of writing.

        Sir Sobhā Siṅgh died in Delhi on 18 April 1978.

Khushwant Siṅgh