In the year 2019, the Central government announced the redevelopment project to give a new identity to the Parliament of India. The Central Vista project foresees building a new Parliament House, a new residential complex to house officers and the Prime Minister and the Vice President, it will also have new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to lodge various ministries' offices. The Project is scheduled between 2020 and 2024 and aims to revamp a 3 km long Rajpath between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate by spending Rs. 20,000 crore in the next four years.
Many jurists have questioned why the centre was spending ₹ 20,000 crores on this project, while it could buy 62 crore vaccine shots. There have been several protests from the opposition parties, regarding the money that would have been better utilised if spent to ameliorate the healthcare system. Other allegations range from the influence on Delhi’s green cover to destroying the colonial-era heritage structure. But these allegations have been clarified by the official release of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
BURSTING THE MYTHS
The first bone of contention is the budget allocated for the Central Vista Project during the coronavirus pandemic, after all, ₹20,000 crores is a hefty amount that could have been redirected towards vaccine procurement. This questions the whole idea of the project. But the truth behind this is that, the redevelopment plan came up in September 2019, many months before the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. This plan is a generational infra redevelopment project, involving multiple projects spread over 6 years and ₹20,000 crore is an approximate estimate of the planned work. Up to March 2021, the Central government has spent ₹195 crores while the budget allotment for 2021-22 is ₹790 crores.
The second myth alleges that funds have been redirected from the healthcare budget of COVID-19 response to the Vista project, which stands completely untrue. Public welfare has always been the government's ultimate priority, which is exemplified in budget 2020-21, where there has been a 137% increase in the budget allocation on healthcare infra and well-being expenditure. The one-time amount to covid vaccination is ₹35,000 crore, which is approximately 175% more than the total budget of the project which is expected to be accomplished by 2026. Even after much of the debate, delaying the project at this point does not mean that all the funds will ultimately be diverted toward healthcare. Further, delaying the work would entail certain liabilities on the government under the pre-existing contracts and the workers’ interest as well as their livelihood that would be adversely affected. Also, if the project has to be accomplished later, it will inflict more cost on the government.
Aiming for universal vaccination for the country, the Government is already running the world’s largest vaccination drive, India is one amongst the fastest countries to administer 21 crore doses to the people and presently more than 10% of the people in the world who have been fully vaccinated hail from India.
The third myth questions the requirement of constructing a complete new Parliament building while the older building could have been repaired. In its clarification the Centre argued that the present Parliament building is a colonial-era structure that was converted as the Parliament House on India’s independence, it was never designed to accommodate a two-tier legislature of a full-fledged democracy. Through various constitutional amendment acts, the present count of the Lok Sabha has been frozen on 552 since 1976 which means each MP represents on an average 25 lakh citizens. As a result of which there have been urgent calls for increasing the representation in the Parliament, so if the count of the Parliament increases after the freeze on its expansion lifts in 2026, a larger structure will be required to accommodate the increased strength.
The fourth myth is concerned with the environmental damage which the project may provoke by disturbing the green spaces in the area. While the centre disagrees with this concern, as it says that environmental sustainability is the centre of the project and no trees will be disturbed in the area on the other hand trees will be replanted in the echo-park being redeveloped by the NTPC at Badarpur with the due permission of the competent authorities. The overall greenery under the Central Vista area will increase under the vista plan. It is put forward to transplant 3,230 trees to Eco-park, NTPC, Badarpur after acquiring EC from MoEF&CC and consent from the Forest department. In a nutshell, Central Vista will have a net gain of 563 trees with minimum environmental effects as per the strict measures undertaken during the construction work.
The opposition alleges that the reconstruction work is continued during the covid times by invoking the Essential Commodities Act but the truth is no provisions of the “Essential Commodities Act” were ever invoked. The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) imposed a curfew during the second wave period of the Covid-19 pandemic but allowed the construction work with the labor who stayed on the site. The DDMA sought permission from the Delhi Police to move construction vehicles on the site and execute the work to match the strict deadlines. Meanwhile, adequate arrangements were made for the workers on-site and all the activities were undertaken cautiously by complying with the covid appropriate behaviour as prescribed by the government.
Anya Malhotra and Another v Union of India is a recent case addressed by the Delhi High Court. In this case, the petitioners filed a PIL which sought to halt the construction activity in concurrence with the orders of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority during the peak time of the second wave of coronavirus. The petitioners claimed that they are only challenging the project because of its unmindfulness and recklessness, the work is being carried in such a manner that poses a threat to the lives of the citizens of Delhi and beyond, including the lives of the labourers engaged in the project. A bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh set aside the plea, saying the petition was “motivated” and “not a genuine PIL”. It also inflicted a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the petitioners.
A plea is now filed in Supreme Court by renowned Advocate Pradeep Kumar Yadav challenging the Delhi High Court’s verdict which dismissed the petition seeking suspension of construction activity of Central Vista. It alleged that the High Court failed to appreciate that allowing a big construction work with a large number of labourers and workers to continue during the pandemic period is a serious public health issue concern.
After several allegations from the opposition and various media houses, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs finally released an official document clarifying its stance on the redevelopment plan of the Central Vista Project. The Project is in progress with due permission of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority and the Delhi Police, all the appropriate measures have been taken for carrying out the construction work during the coronavirus pandemic. The centre’s stance has been advocated by the Delhi High Court as well which keeping in view the details of the vista project, recently dismissed the PIL filed against the reconstruction work. Now, the apex court is hearing a petition filed regarding the same issue but given the circumstances and pieces of evidence, the central government has a much clearer standing on its strategies, so it could be said that for now, the ball rests in their court.
~Authored by Kavya Singh