In a controversial Rs 20,000-crore project, the Modi government seeks to redevelop the iconic Central Vista, and build a triangular Parliament building next to the existing one, common Central Secretariat, revamp the 3-km Rajpath, build a new Parliament House on a 9.5-acre land near the existing building, reportedly 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 Central Vista is a heritage precinct, declared in the 1962 Master Plan of Delhi as an “important site to meet the aspirations of a rich culture”. It is important, then, to do extensive multi-disciplinary studies if there is an intent to redevelop the area.
The Central Vista redevelopment project involves the creation of a new and bigger parliament building, new residences for the prime minister and the vice-president near the South and North Blocks and the demolition of the existing buildings along the two sides of the Rajpath, to make way for a concentration of about 10 government building complexes in this space.
In the hearing before the Supreme Court, Solicitor Genetal Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, arguing in favour of the redevelopment has apprised the bench that the present Parliament building was opened in 1927. He has explained that owing to it being so old, there are allot of safety problems arising including space crunch, not earthquake-proof and the absence of fire safety norms. He also highlighted the other security threats to the present building while referring to the 2001 Parliamentary attack.
Mehta has stressed the need for all central ministries to be at one place in order to improve the efficiency of the government. He highlighted the problem of different ministries offices scattered across the capital. He said, “it is a policy decision that all central ministries should be at one place and that place has to be one which has historical significance.”
Rajeev Suri, one of the petitioners in the case has opposed the redevelopment projecting arguing against the change of land use allowed for this project. Also, getting all the offices at one place increases the vehicular traffic in the area leading to traffic snarls and environmental degradation.
These changes could mean the loss of the IGNCA, the National Museum, the National Archives and the public and social nature of this iconic landscape of the India.
In a letter to the government, more than 50 academicians and retired bureaucrats requested the government to think otherwise.
The redevelopment planned will cause severe environmental damage. The precinct is at the core of the congested capital of Delhi, and acts as the lungs of the city, with its dense mature tree canopies serving as a repository of bio diversity and the vast lawns of the Vista as a watershed for the city between the Ridge and the Yamuna.
Constructing a large number of multi-storeyed office buildings, with basements, in this open area will create congestion and irreversibly change and damage the environment.
Delhi already suffers from enormous environmental pollution. To plan something which will increase this pollution many times, not merely during the construction phase but also subsequently, is clearly a thoughtless and irresponsible act.
“First, they should ascertain their requirement for the next 25 years and develop a programme accordingly. After you decide the magnitude of the project, you select a site. In the case of the Central Vista, you already have the site, so you need to fit the programme to the site. In these times, you also need to look at how technology will shrink your floor space and make your adjustments accordingly. The studies that need to be done should include infrastructure, from electrical loads and water supply to waste disposal. The more the built form, the more the waste. Will there be new routes for sewage or will the present systems have the capacity to absorb more,” says architect-urban designer KT Ravindran.
In case of any project of this magnitude, generally, the project proponent (construction agency like the CPWD or NBCC) or the client (any government department or ministry) has to seek conceptual approval from the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC).
“These are financial decisions, which also include clearance from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and monetary allocations from the finance ministry. The General Finance Rules 2017 say that for conducting a competition or floating a tender, details of which should be available in the public domain. The information will include project assessment studies that have been done by regulatory bodies and NDMC. A regulatory Master Plan is made by a body that has elected representation, which is NDMC, MCD or DDA. In the Central Vista Redevelopment Project, it appears that CPWD’s project masterplan is supplanting the city’s regulatory Master Plan (MPD2021). The CPWD is not an urban local body, the NDMC is. So they should have sought sanction from NDMC who should have scrutinised its compliance to the existing regulatory Master Plan,” says architect Madhav Raman. In this case, with the haste shown, the entire process seems to have been short circuited.
With land usage changed, least regard to the environment, scant thought to the heritage of the city, mired in controversy, the Central Vista Project will showcase the legacy of PM Modi who himself mirrors the project’s controversial nature.