The Central Vista project has been in news recently, primarily because of the positive and uplifting nature of the project but also because of the concerted propaganda mounted against it by the opposition parties.
As has become the norm in recent times – that everything that is good for India must be opposed – the Central Vista project has also been vehemently opposed by vested interests and breaking India forces. First they went to the Supreme Court, arguing that the project is unnecessary and that it will alter the so-called heritage nature of some of the buildings. When that plea was dismissed, the group did not rest. They invented another obstructionist methodology – this time they went to the Delhi High Court with the plea that during the times of COVID pandemic, the project should be stopped. The Court rightly realised the spurious nature of the plea, dismissed it outright and even called the central vista project a ‘project of national importance”.
Let us revisit some of the orchestrated, organised and vituperative propaganda launched against the project and the Prime Minister Modi government.
Toolkit of Hatred for India
- Rahul Gandhi – “Central Vista is criminal wastage”
- Congress Party -“Thousands Dying Of Covid While PM Modi "Building New House":
- Priyanka Gandhi Vadra –“PM’s new residence & Central vista cost = Rs 20,000 cr = 62 crore vaccine doses = 22 crore Remdesvir vials = 3 crore 10 litre oxygen cylinders = 13 AIIMS with a total of 12,000 beds”
- Joint Letter by Opposition parties (Sonia Gandhi, Hemant Soren, Farooq Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav, D Raja, Sitaram Yechury) –“Stop Central Vista Project, use allocated money for procuring oxygen and vaccine instead “
- Shashi Tharoor – "Why now, at such colossal expense and at a time when the country and economy are reeling from the effects of the lockdown?"
- Sitaram Yechury –“Government’s move to continue with Central Vista project grotesque”
- BBC Op-Ed – Central Vista: Does Indian PM Narendra Modi really need a new house?
- The Wire Op-Ed –“As the country reels under a severe health crisis, with its health system under pressure amid rising COVID-19 cases, the work on the Modi govt’s Central Vista project has been permitted to continue as an “essential service”
- Prashant Bhushan –“As thousands of bodies are washed down rivers into the sands, its mining continues to construct the Central Vista project, a Sultan's dream of a grand new home & office!”
- Kapil Sibal –“It is an act of monumental insensitivity not to voluntarily stop this project”
- Anish Kapoor (The Guardian) –“The architect who's redesigned New Delhi's Central Vista "has destroyed the city of Ahmedabad by cementing over the banks of the Sabarmati river that runs through it, he is in the process of ruining Varanasi..." -–
- Former cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar, former health secretary K Sujatha Rao, former foreign secretary and ex-national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, former adviser to the PM T K A Nair, former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah and former Delhi L-G Najeeb Jung -“Stop Central Vista project, give free doses to all
- Shiv Sena –“India surviving on a system created by Nehru-Gandhi, slams govt’s Central Vista project. The party expressed surprise that nobody feels regret that on the one hand, India accepts aid from countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, while on the other, Modi is not ready to stop work on the multi-crore Central Vista project”
- Tavleen Singh (Indian Express) – "The Prime Minister’s image has taken a huge hit. May I humbly suggest that it could be improved considerably if he stopped work on the Central Vista project. Images of the mounds of debris and dirt that lie scattered where once there were elegant streetlamps and manicured lawns have travelled all over the world and most people are horrified at what they think of as vandalism. We Indians know that the Prime Minister believes that this project is an assertion of nationalism and that his favourite architect will do a much better job than Edwin Lutyens or Herbert Baker."
- In an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi 76 scholars (historian Romila Thapar, critic and scholar Gayatri Spivak, artist Anish Kapoor, writer Orhan Pamuk, Glenn Lowry) - the scholars criticised the –“extravagant project” in the “midst of a devastating pandemic, endangering workers, and squandering scarce resources that could be used to save lives.”
- Ram Chandra Guha –“The Central Vista project intends to make the existing Parliament Building a "Museum for Democracy". This is grimly appropriate, since Museums are for things that are dead or extinct. Thus, South Africa has an Apartheid Museum. And India will one day have a Museum for Democracy.”
India’s needs have grown, in tune with its population growth and the growth of the economy, and more importantly the rise in aspirations, there is a shortage of sufficient office spaces to cater to all the present requirements
As can be seen from this short-list, every prominent member of the breaking India forces – national and international – was mobilised to oppose, tarnish and stop the central vista project.
But this is not new. The entire motto of the Congress party and its ecosystem in recent years has been two-fold. First, it is a “Toolkit of Hatred for India and Love for Corruption” – whatever is good for India must be bad for Congress. The second motto of Congress seems to be that “wherever I do not get a commission, the project must be decommissioned”.
Add to this the list of the ‘civil society influencers’, who are nothing but ‘uncivil power brokers’, then the entire destructive cocktail is ready.
Be it the opening of bank accounts for all through Jan Dhan, or revolutionising transactions through digital payments, or the bravery of Indian armed forces in surgical strikes after Uri or air strikes in Balakot, or standing up to China or developing an Indian made vaccine against COVID-19 in record time – the Congress party has been at the forefront opposing everything that is good.
But the question remains to be asked – what is it about the Central Vista project that so riles up the ancien regime of the Congress party?
The Need for Central Vista
- The present Central Vista was designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker. Their inspiration – the Washington's Capitol Complex and Paris' Champs Elysees – was not anything that remotely represented our cultural or civilisational moorings.
- After Independence, some ugly and haphazard construction was done to house the many central ministries and departments. These buildings represent the worst of the socialist phase of India – one of no design or aesthetic sense but a country which had a shortage economy and had to make do with make-shift buildings housing India’s most important ministries.
- As such, almost all the buildings in the Central Vista area are more than 50-60 years old and are near the end of their serviceable lives. North and South Blocks, over 100 years old, also need renovation and retrofitting.
- As India’s needs have grown, in tune with its population growth and the growth of the economy, and more importantly the rise in aspirations, there is a shortage of sufficient office spaces to cater to all the present requirements. Attendant shortages of parking and other amenities and services are also there.
- In absence of a building in tune with current requirements, the recurring costs of modernisation and refurbishing is a yearly burden on the government’s exchequer.
- Multiple Ministries and Departments of the Central Government need to rent offices outside the Central Vista due to lack of space. This meant a significantly high and recurring annual expense of around Rs 1,000 crore!
- Think about this — around 7,000 employees from Defence services, sit in hutments which were temporary structures meant as stables and barracks created during World War- II. Why this spectacle? Simply, we have not upgraded and kept up pace with the requirements.
1. The Objectives of Central Vista Development Master Plan include
a) Upgrading Parliament's space and facilities to meet the demands of representation that will be required post 2026, when delimitation, frozen since 1971, opens up and the number of elected MPs go up in proportion to our population.
b) Consolidating, rationalising and synergising government functioning so that it is not scattered as it is now but works in synthesis and unison.
c) Refurbishing and better equipping the Central Vista Avenue
d) Strengthening cultural institutions in the Central Vista
e) Providing adequate and permanent facilities for the Vice President and the Prime Minister. Incidentally, India is the only major country in the world which does not have an institutionalised, fully connected place for the head of the government – the Prime Minister. Take the case of USA – The White House - or that of Britain – 10 Downing Street – all-major countries have permanent, institutional place. This is because in India, the institutional buildings such as Teen Murti Bhavan or 1, Safdarjung Lane or 10 Janpath – residences of Prime Ministers – were all usurped by the Congress party as private memorials.
The Comprehensive Plan
- As on date, two projects - New Parliament Building and Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment are in progress.
- The new Parliament building will enable the Winter Session in 2022 to be held in new Parliament building to celebrate 75 years of India's independence.
- Old and New Parliament buildings will be harmonised so that the two buildings work in conjunction as 'Legislative Enclave'.
- The new Parliament building will house larger Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Halls. New capacity will be 888 seats and 384 seats respectively.
- The New Lok Sabha Hall will also have additional capacity, up to 1272 seats, to host joint sessions of the Parliament.
- The new Parliament building's architecture and aesthetics will be a happy confluence of present Parliament building, and the classical, folk and tribal arts and crafts of India.
- The Central Vista Avenue, used for such national occasions as Republic Day Parade and a tourists hot spot, is also being refurbished, its infrastructure upgraded, and new social amenities added to better cater to the people.
- About 5.64 acres of land will be added in green area and shall be available for public use after affecting land use changes.
- By redeveloping existing Central Secretariat buildings, around 2 hectares of additional green public spaces will be accessible to all citizens.
- North and South Block will be converted into the new National Museum and will be open to public, thereby increasing publicly accessible space in the Central Vista.
- A Common Central Secretariat (CCS) – comprising 10 buildings – will be constructed so that seamless work can happen between ministries and their present scattered and silo style working is forever ended.
Criticism Related to Cost and Timing
Central Vista’s total project is Rs 20,000 crore. But what people miss is that this will be spent over several years and not in just one year alone. As of now only projects worth about Rs 1,300 crores have been started.
In contrast, central government’s health and wellness budget in FY 2021-22 was an all-time record of over Rs 2 lakh crore. This is about 10 times more than the overall cost of the whole Central Vista project and that too for just one year. So, the faulty comparison that some people try by comparing central vista with emphasis on health is entirely misplaced.
Just vaccination allocation for one year which is Rs 35,000 crore is almost double the budget of Central Vista project which is spread across several years.
Even PM-CARES has allocated more to buy ventilators (Rs 2,000 crore) for the nation than the currently ongoing projects (Rs 1,300 crore) of Central Vista!
Finally, the cascading effects of infrastructure construction at such a large scale are manifold. Just the two ongoing projects have provided direct livelihood opportunities to more than 10,000 skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers on site and off site.
Substantial indirect employment has also been created in the manufacturing and transportation sectors – such as transporters of cement, steel and other building materials.
The Central Vista Development Master Plan is in tune with our resolve for AatmaNirbhar Bharat. The project will present a grand piece of modern Indian infrastructure and architecture. The new, redesigned Central Vista will stand out as an institution built by the people, of the people and for the people of the nation. The vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of strengthening New India – even as the country celebrates 75th Anniversary of its Independence – is moving in multiple directions, undaunted by challenges.
(The writer is CEO, Bluekraft Digital Foundation, a New Delhi based Public Policy Think Tank. He was earlier Director (content) MyGov)