By: Hardeep S Puri
After hearing the matter regarding the Central Vista Project for eight months over 28 hearings, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 5 January 2021 gave the go-ahead for the project. The Court categorically stated that all statutory requirements were met and approvals taken following due process. Despite these clearances, a hawkish and strident campaign of misrepresentation against the Central Vista Project continued.
On 31 May 2021, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi upheld the Central Vista Project as an essential project of national importance, dismissing a petition which sought to stay construction. The Court also imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh on the petitioners. ‘This is a motivated petition preferred by the petitioners and is not a genuine Public Interest Litigation’, the Court said.
This is just the latest attempt at stopping the Central Vista Project work. A slew of other legal/political challenges raised against the project is part of a relentless campaign by the opposition, trying to obstruct work of immense national importance and pride.
The entire Central Vista project comprising ten buildings to house the 51 ministries/departments of the Government, a new conference centre, a residence for the Vice President and Prime Minister, etc. is a project that will take five years to complete. Only two projects of New Parliament Building and Redevelopment of Central Vista Avenue costing ¹ 862 crores and ¹ 477 crores, respectively, have been awarded so far.
In the cacophony that was created through a malicious narrative, what was sadly forgotten was that it is the duty of a responsible democratically elected Government to provide the governance architecture that is befitting the world’s largest democracy. The new Parliament building is going to be just that. What was systematically put on the back burner by the previous dispensation fettered by policy paralysis, was taken up by this Government. The space crunch within the existing Parliament building would become even more serious after 2026 when the embargo on increasing the strength of Parliament would be lifted. The strength of both Houses of Parliament is bound to increase to reflect the growth in India’s population.
Leaders of the Congress party have written and spoken about the need for a new parliament building. The Hon’ble Speaker’s office in 2012, in fact, wrote to the Urban Development Ministry approving the construction of a new Parliament building. Today as the project is being implemented suddenly leaders from this very party are suffering from collective amnesia.
The tragedy of it all is that the leader of this very party has a distasteful legacy of his great grandfather’s and grandmother’s bungalows being conveniently converted into memorials and is deliberately classifying the overall Central Vista project as ‘Modi Mahal’ whose overall cost is being depicted as the cost of the new ‘Modi’ residence.
Even though the Government is the land owner, over the years it has been forking out a whopping Rs 1000 crore annually by way of rent for space for its own offices!
Now the double speak. The Shiv Sena–NCP–Congress government in Maharashtra which, at the height of the second wave, floated a tender for ¹ 900 crores for a MLAs hostel of approximately 10 lakh square feet!
Any self-respecting Government would have addressed the needs of a new Central Vista at the earliest after 1947. When this is being addressed seven and a half decades later, there is duplicitous slamming of a project of necessity as one of vanity!
Economic revival is a critical priority amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These two construction projects generate employment opportunities for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Direct livelihoods to around 1,600 and 1,250 workers on and off-site are provided. As a responsible and compassionate government, keeping in mind safety of workers during the pandemic, all COVID appropriate protocols are being followed diligently and with proper oversight.
While India is fighting the pandemic, it is necessary to keep the economy working while taking care of the most vulnerable sections of our society. If providing gainful employment while protecting our workers is possible, there is no reason to stop work on a project of national importance and value—a view which the judiciary has vindicated.
Indeed the observation that this is a project of ‘national importance’ sums up the Government’s own view – these are projects for the future of the country and should be above petty politics. The new Parliament that is being constructed is looking at the next two hundred and fifty years at the very least.
Lastly, to all the critics lamenting the destruction of the heritage buildings, let me assure one and all that not a single heritage structure is going to be demolished.
In times of crisis and uncertainty, a nation looks at its political leaders and civil society for leadership and strength. The actions and priorities of the opposition in India today seem, however, to be tragically misplaced. It is time the Congress and other Modi-baiters find a more constructive calling.
The writer is Union Minister for Housing & Urban Affairs.