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8 May, 2020 12:02:10 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 13 May, 2020 11:45:39 PM

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DATELINE INDIA

THE ‘C-WORD’
Kumkum Chadha
DATELINE INDIA

It is the C word which seems to be staring everyone in the face here in India: be it the Coronavirus or the ambitious Central Vista project.
The Modi government has been battling criticism for going ahead with an ambitious redevelopment programme despite the coronavirus gripping India. Petitions were filed in court for scrapping the mammoth project but the Supreme Court would have none of it. 
That the Modi government has been fighting the pandemic is well known as is the fact that it has managed to keep the numbers well in control, the spikes notwithstanding. 
Even while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tough decision of a nationwide lockdown won him acclaim as also his lives over livelihood focus, the time has now come to address the issue of reviving the economy. 
But the facts first and the basic question: what exactly is the Central Vista project?.

The answer is multidimensional. For Modi’s critics it is Modi's "dream to live in a new house and address MPs from a new Parliament building”; or “somebody's hobby horse”; or else “warped, distorted, completely absurd priorities of this government”; some say it is “megalomania”.|
However, the official version, which Modi’s loyalists  swear by, is that the Parliament building’s facilities and infrastructure are inadequate to meet the current demand; the offices  of the Central Government are spread over different locations which affect inter-departmental coordination and unnecessary travel leading to congestion and pollution and more importantly most of  the existing buildings have outlived their structural lives.

Coming back to what exactly is the Central Vista project, in essence it is constructing a triangular Parliament building next to the existing one; constructing a common central Secretariat; revamping the 3-km long Rajpath from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate; and converting North and South Block to museums. 

Currently, the Central Vista of New Delhi includes Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House, North and South Block and India Gate among others.  

Under this ambitious project, there will be a new Parliament building by July 2022 and a common Central Secretariat by March 2024. This according to official sources mean the renovation of outdated infrastructure and construction of new buildings to provide adequate space in the Parliament House. Once this project is completed, the strength of the parliament is expected to increase from 545 seats to 900 seats. The common Central Secretariat, on the other hand, will bring all the government offices under one building. As per proposal, a  triangular-shaped Parliament building will be built next to the existing one. The existing Nirman Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, and Vigyan Bhavan will be demolished under this project; and more importantly the Prime Minister Office, residences of PM and Vice President will also be reconstructed.

A new Parliament House will come up on a 9.5-acre land near the existing building while plans are to shift the prime minister's residence and office  near the South Block and the vice-president's new house in the vicinity of the North Block.

The first inkling of the mammoth project was  in September 2019, when the Ministry of Urban Development invited bids for the appointment of a consultant for the “Development/Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista at New Delhi”. Even while the stated objectives were to create structures for a future “legacy of at least 200 years representatives of values of aspirations of a New India”, the undertones were clear: the BJP was pursuing its agenda of erasing the colonial heritage. 

The cost is ofcourse mind-boggling: Rs 20,000 crores and still counting. 

Amid the coronavirus crisis and the funds required to fight it, demands for scrapping the project have gained ground with the doors of the apex court being knocked at. Efforts proved futile when the Supreme Court declined to stay the Central Vista project.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde said, "In COVID-19 times no one is going to do anything. There is no urgency." Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said, "A new parliament is being constructed. Why should anyone have a problem?" The plan for the project has been prepared in accordance with India's 75th Independence Day in 2022.

The work on the Central Vista is slated for completion by November 2021. By March 2022, a new parliament building and a common central secretariat by March 2024, would be in place, according to the government. 

The project has been in controversy and has also been a subject of scrutiny for many reasons. The plea was submitted that the project will violate the Delhi Master Plan 2021 that aimed at decentralizing the government offices in the national capital.

There were environment based concerns that highlighted that the project might undertake a large portion of land that has been currently used by the public for recreational purposes.

The Congress while urging  the Centre to scrap its ambitious Central Vista redevelopment project has accused  the BJP government of fast-tracking it. 

Taking a dig at Centre, the Congress said the plight of migrant workers across India and the lack of Personal Protective Equipment for doctors at the forefront of the COVID-19 battle were some of the costs "India has to bear". As against this incurring such huge costs on the Central Vista is nothing short of “criminal” and “suicidal”. 

To quote a senior Congress leader: “It is not only for a Modi Mahal, which includes a new prime minister's house, it is the intention to leave somehow in a personal manner, your own stamp by littering the whole of the green verdant landscape of Rajpath with new buildings, in the name of offices, in the name of convenience and modernisation. A more horrible attack on the heart and psyche of Delhi cannot be imagined”.

Pleas to stop the project in face of salaries and allowances of MPs been cut and MPLADs frozen for two years as also has DA for govt employees till mid-2021 fell on deaf ears even as the Court refused a stay on the Central Vista redevelopment project. 

The govt, it is being alleged is placing  the Central Vista project over welfare of migrants affected by the coronavirus lockdown. 

Some quarters however feel that even if scrapping is not an option, the least the government should do is to put the project on hold. The Government it seems is keen on see it through and as some have suggested is “hot footing” it: “Buy ventilators instead” seems to be the unanimity among critics. 

Some among those who have gone as far as calling it as “urban hara-kiri” have also charged the government of pursuing a political agenda by making what are being termed as “procedural compromises, and an unconscionable usurping of public spaces for government use”. 

Irrespective, one thing seems to be clear: that the BJP government under Modi wants to leave a stamp of its own on India’s capital. This would serve a dual purpose: it would imprint  Modi’s name  in the minds of the future generations through the Central Vista and reshaping the iconic Parliament House. At the same time it would dwarf the Nehru-Gandhi legacy which, as things stand, is somehow overpowering and etched in the minds of average Indians.(ends)

The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist and a columnist of The Independent.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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