30-Sep-2020 15:17:51

Central vista parliament modi government pandemic

The Central government i.e. the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to redevelop the Central Vista which is the heart of Delhi. Under this redevelopment project, a new parliamentary building and a common secretariat will be established along with revamping Central Vista which runs from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate. It aims to alter some structures and demolish certain buildings within the Parliament complex & modify the National Archives.

What is Central Vista?

The Central Vista is an iconic 3 km stretch in the heart of New Delhi. It consists of large green spaces and significant structures such as Parliament, the Secretariat buildings, and the National Archives. It is recognized around the world as a striking example of innovative urban planning and architecture.

For centuries, Delhi has been a major center of power as many dynasties have ruled Delhi over the years. In 1911, the Colonial British rulers shifted their capital from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Delhi. This was because it was becoming difficult to rule from Calcutta as there was growing antipathy towards foreign rule amongst the city’s educated and conscious elite. So the British rulers realized the importance of Delhi and the India office in London appointed two architects to design New Delhi- Edwin Landseer Lutyens & Herbert Baker. These two architects planned the central administrative area of the city. They retained a third of the area for open spaces, including wide lawns that draw crowds of residents, tourists, and vendors all year round.

Central Vista is a remarkable and historical zone that was built during the British Raj. It continues to be nurtured and celebrated largely in the post-Independence era. This area has been accorded Grade 1 heritage status under the extant Unified Building Bye-Laws for Delhi. Thus, Central Vista is significant for historical, lived, and architectural heritage. More importantly, it is a public-use area for tourists & residents and provides a huge green area.

Central Vista Redevelopment Project

The Central Vista Redevelopment Project was initiated by the Modi government in September 2019 when the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs invited bids for the appointment of a consultant for the Development/ Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat, and Central Vista at New Delhi. According to the notice by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the objective of the plan is to create new iconic structures. These structures shall be a legacy for 150 – 200 years at the very least and will represent the values and aspirations of a New India – good governance, efficiency, transparency, accountability, and equity and are rooted in the Indian culture and social milieu.

This iconic project seeks to redevelop the Central Vista, and build a triangular Parliament building next to the existing one, build Common Central Secretariat, revamp the 3-km Rajpath, and build a new Parliament House on a 9.5-acre land near the existing building. The project is likely to shift the Prime Minister’s residence and office near the South Block, and build the Vice-President’s new house in the vicinity of the North Block.

The proposed Parliament building will be designed in consultation with the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Secretariats, security agencies, Speakers, and committees. The design will be such that will not only help to address the space requirements but will also facilitate to keep and maintain the existing parliament building intact as a symbol of a vibrant democracy. This building will be triangular and is to be located opposite the existing one. The new parliament building will have new Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha chambers. The new Lok Sabha chamber in the proposed Parliament building will be almost three times the size of the present chamber. It is believed to accommodate 876 members and 1224 members during joint sessions. While the new Rajya Sabha Chamber will be four times the current one and will be able to accommodate 400 members.

The Cabinet Secretariat is currently spread over 47 buildings that house various ministries. While 39 of those ministries are located in the current Central Vista, 12 are spread outside this area. The redevelopment project aims to situate all 51 ministries in 10 buildings in the Central Vista area. In addition to this, the construction of a 3-km-long underground shuttle has been proposed to connect and integrate the new buildings. According to the plan, these shuttles will run in a closed-loop to meet the transport requirement of government employees. These shuttles will connect to the existing metro stations at Udyog Bhawan and Central Secretariat which aims to discourage official staff from using private vehicles.

This project will be designed by Gujarat based architect Bimal Patel’s firm HCP Designs. And the Tata Projects Limited will construct the new Parliament building. The project will cost around approximately Rs. 20,000 crore. The government has set a deadline of November 2021 for the redevelopment of Central Vista, March 2022 for the completion of the new parliament building, and March 2024 for the completion of the Common Central Secretariat.

Significance of the project

Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri, explained why this project was essential. He said that the central vista area lacks basic public facilities, amenities, and parking space. The unorganized and haphazard parking leads to congestion and gives a poor public perception. Therefore, there is a need for up-gradation. In addition to this, the offices of the Central Government’s Ministries and Departments are spread over different locations which affect inter-departmental coordination and leads to inefficiencies, and unnecessary travel leading to congestion and pollution.

Minister Puri points out that the building of the existing Parliament was started in 1921 and was commissioned in 1927. This building is 93 years old and has started showing signs of distress and overutilization. Over the years, the parliamentary activities, the number of people working therein and visitors has increased significantly. There is an acute shortage of office space and there are no individual chambers for MPs. According to Minister Puri, this building was not meant to be for bicameral Parliament and has been over-stressed. Furthermore, the building does not satisfy the upgraded safety measures for an earthquake-proof building and is not designed according to the fire norms. In addition to this, the minister pointed out that with the reorganization of constituencies, the number of Lok Sabha seats is likely to go up and the present building does not have any space to house any additional member. Thus there is an urgent need for this redevelopment project.

This project was met by many criticisms from the opposition parties and environmentalists. Member of the Congress party Shashi Tharoor said that the money earmarked for the project must instead be used to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated the country’s poor communities. He wrote, ‘Grand spending on buildings at this time of crisis is a postponable luxury.’ Over 60 retired IAS and IPS officers, including two former secretaries in the environment ministry wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs Urban Hardeep Singh Puri. The letter states that ‘The construction and redesign on the scale planned in the redevelopment project will significantly affect the heritage nature of this precinct, and destroy it irrevocably. The redevelopment planned will, moreover cause severe environmental damage.’

DMK’s member Kalanidhi Veeraswami pointed out there were other ways to mobilize funds. He said, ‘There is a proposal that the amount of about Rs 20,000 crore to be spent on the Central Vista project could instead be used to combat Covid-19.’ Congress leader Rajiv Satav said there is no need to spend Rs 20,000 crore on the Central Vista project, which plans beautification and construction in the capital, including a new Parliament building. He further said that the Parliament buildings of the US, the UK, Italy, and France were constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, while the one in India came up in 1927. So there is no need to demolish the Parliament complex. Thus, Congress and several other Opposition parties expressed their concerns. They raised objections to the project and dubbed it as a wasteful expenditure at a time the pandemic had perpetrated an unprecedented economic crisis.

The redevelopment project does promise various reasons and even lays the groundwork on how it is pivotal for the greater good. The criticism opens up a clear window where many people are concerned as the times of pandemic are still hovering in the world. It is definite that the plan of redevelopment establishes its own avenues of its importance. But the current times of pandemic where millions of people live with health risk and uncertainty and a big section of people who live on streets and slums with almost no proper healthcare support. It is the responsibility of our government to re-evaluate the pros and the cons as demanded by the current situation.

Written By: - Vanshika Arora

Cover image credit: HCP designs