Governance India

Central Vista Redevelopment – The New Temple of Democracy

Central Vista project is in news lately and has been the center of discussion for various weeks now. This project has been in full swing despite criticisms by the top leaders of the country and environmentalists. This article attempts to provide information about the project, the perks of redevelopment. It also tries to answer several questions that have been raised regarding the whole process and its implications.

Central vista is situated at the heart of the national capital of ‘independent, democratic and republic’ country of India. It is a 3.2 km stretch decorated with jewels like Rashtrapati Bhawan, Central Secretariat, Parliament House, and India Gate. The Central Vista has always been the centre and symbol of independent India since its inception. The Central Vista was first designed by architect Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1923 when the capital of the British Raj was moved from Calcutta to Delhi. The beauty and magnificence of Central Vista in New Delhi are amongst the most celebrated in the world and it is advised to keep it to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 [1].

Central Vista Redevelopment Project

It is a project of government launched in 2019, which aims to redevelop central vista to give a new identity as the ‘Power Corridor’ of India [2]. The project foresees renovating Central Vista as a world-class public space, restoring its opulence as an architectural icon, housing modern facilities for the efficient functioning of the administration, strengthening cultural institutions, and honouring the 75th year of Indian Independence.

The plan anticipates the construction of a central secretariat, new parliament building, prime minister, and vice-president’s residences along with 10 building blocks that will have the capacity for all government ministries and departments [3]. The whole Central Vista Project is estimated to cost INR 13,450 crores, while the new parliament building budget is 971 crore alone [4].

Need for Renewal of Central Vista

The government’s argument behind this project was that the old infrastructure and facilities don’t meet the current demands. Due to this, getting them listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would only hold them unchangeable, and consequently, unusable after few years.

Here are some reasons to the question pinpointing the need for the Central Vista Project:

  • Origin: Even after 73 years of independence, the nation does not have a central secretariat. The present parliament house denotes an imperial origin whereas India is a successful democratic country. Thus, the present building is not following the aspirations of independent Indian citizens and the new building will stand out as an institution created by 130 crore citizens. [5]
  • Structure Life: The parliament is a 93-year-old building and in dire need of retrofitting. Every building has a life span, so it is facing many safety issues as technologies used for prevention in the building is now outdated. [6]
  • Distance matters: At present, a large number of ministry offices are scattered across the city of Delhi. Out of the 51 ministries, which have around 51,000 employees, 22 ministries are located inside central vista, with around 41,000 employees [7]. The remaining ministries and their around 10,000 employees are located in a rented place all over Delhi. According to govt sources, thousands of crore of rent is paid every year for housing ministries in private buildings [8]. This project will save money.
  • Traffic: Due to a large number of offices located outside Central Vista, cars have to run around the city from one ministry to another which results in traffic and pollution. Adding to it, also causes waste of time in inter-ministerial works, decreasing the efficiency of the work. [9]
  • Inadequate Infrastructure: The parliament house can accommodate around 800 MPs at a time in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in total [6]. During the time of a joint session, it is difficult to accommodate all MPs in one hall and temporary plastic chairs are required to be arranged in the aisle, making it more crowded, which, certainly not a dignified scene for the parliament of the largest democracy of the world. The current building will be under more stress when the number of seats are raised. [4]
  • Fire safety Issue: Existing building does not conform to fire safety norms and is not earthquake-proof. Delhi has become more earthquake-prone in recent times. It is not possible to certify the building as earthquake-proof because of the unavailability of original plans. Water and sewer lines are also haphazard, and this is damaging its heritage nature. [10]

Special Features of Central Vista Project

1. New Parliament Building

The present Parliamentary was built by the British on their own patterns and designs. New building’s design and interiors will capture Indian values and the rich diversity of our regional arts, crafts, textiles, architecture, and culture.

  • The new parliament building will be triangular in shape and will spread over 64,500 square meters. [11]
  • The new parliament building will have a grand constitution hall to showcase India’s democratic heritage, a lounge for members of parliament, a library, committee rooms, dining areas and ample parking space. [10]
  • The theme of the parliament building will reflect the cultural diversity of India by incorporating regional arts and crafts, a symbol of Atmanirbhar Bharat. The theme for the Lok Sabha will be Peacock (National bird), for Rajya Sabha will be Lotus (National flower), and for the central lounge, it will be Banyan (National tree). [12]
  • The capacity of the parliament house will be 1224 members (888 Lok Sabha and 384 Rajya Sabha). Currently, it’s 545 and 245, respectively. The increased capacity of the chambers has been provisioned for keeping in mind future increases in the number of MPs.[11]
  • The new parliament building will be equipped with the latest digital interfaces as a step towards creating ‘paperless offices’ [2].

2. Central Secretariat

  • The secretariat building will be rectangular doughnut-shaped buildings, with a large courtyard in the middle. Trees will be planted in the courtyard. They will be built on four plots on both sides of Rajpath, which are currently fenced plots where various buildings are already located. Thus, no extra open space will be used to build the secretariat. [12]
  • There will be a total of office spaces for 52,300 people including parking for almost 10,000 vehicles in the basement.
  • The central secretariat will be a mass transit-oriented project, as an underground transit system will be constructed connecting all the buildings with the nearby metro networks. It will be a rectangular underground transit path around the Central Secretariat, and a shuttle service will move people in and out of the secretariat buildings, eliminating the need for cars.
  • At present, there is no proper conferencing facility at Central Vista, although the Vigyan Bhawan has some limited facilities. The Conference Centre will have all the modern conferencing facilities and will be the largest government conference facility in the world.

3. Development of public areas

Apart from building new structures, the Central Vista Project also includes the development of the area on both sides of the Rajpath from India Gate to North and South Block buildings, which is available for the public.

  • The lawns and gardens will be improved, public amenity facilities will be added, pathways will be rebuilt. New trees will also be planted, and for this, a tree species survey is being done to ensure the selection of proper species of trees for planting. [12]
  • A 75-acre National Biodiversity Arboretum has been planned behind Rashtrapati Bhavan, which will have collections of plants from different climatic zones. [13]
  • Specific locations will be identified to located street-side vendors who cater to visitors and tourists.
  • In contrast to claims of land-use change, that public space is being used for constructing buildings, actually available public space will increase due to rationalization of land use. At present several government buildings have encroached upon public places, which will be freed up after the project is completed.
  • At present, the lawns on both sides of Rajpath are damaged every year due to the Republic Day parade, as brick and mortar stands are built on them and are demolished afterwards. Temporary bridges are also placed on the canals on both sides of the Rajpath, which damages the canals. Under the project, permanent bridges will be constructed on the canals. For Republic Day, mobile stands will be constructed which can be easily installed and dismantled without damaging the ground.

4. Other Important Features for Central Vista Buildings

  • The building will be eco-friendly and will consume significantly less power and would save energy using efficient lights, equipment, and air-conditioning systems.
  • The new Central Vista will have a Defence Enclave comprising three buildings, with offices of the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff and the three service chiefs, with special security arrangements. There are currently various offices of defence ministry at different places which will now have their own large ‘Defence Enclave’. [13]
  • There will be underground walkways to connect most of the buildings, reducing the carbon footprint.
  • All buildings will be earthquake resistant and will comply with the more stringent Seismic Zone 5 requirements
  • No new building will cross the height of the India gate to maintain the uniformity of structures
  • All MPs will have separate offices in the new building

Conclusion

Many pieces of this entire picture have encountered a serious amount of criticism from the fraternity of architects, planners, historians, and activists alike. From land-use change to the destruction of heritage, from compromise in security to need for an administrative district in precisely the center of the city, from an unfair selection of the design firm to unintelligent utilization of public money, especially in the time of Coronavirus.

The environmentalist states that the Central Vista Project poses a big threat to the environment [8] because the project aims to construct buildings on the green patches which will increase the carbon impact. Adding to it, the biodiversity will get disturbed because of the construction work. Further, Delhi is one of the polluted city and this construction work will increase the chances of being worst. While the other side of the coin thinks that the overall impact of the Central Vista Project will have larger benefits than the current one due to the elimination of the vehicles, plantation of trees, reduced carbon foot prints etc.

There are a lot of unanswered questions with a genuine problem that needs to be resolved. Numerous pleas have been filed by multiple people regarding their issues and concerns [14]. Recently Delhi high-court dismissed the plea to halt the construction work stating that it is an essential project of national importance where the sovereign functions of Parliament are also to be conducted [15]. The legality of the Central Vista Project was already upheld by the Supreme Court and even the Delhi Disaster Management Authority allowed it to continue [16].

Central Vista Project should be presented as the project fulfilling the aspirations of people, not something imposed on the people. All valid concerns should be addressed, and a thorough assessment should be performed to ensure that the project will not have any negative impact.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Is it required to spend on this project when the GDP is negative, and the country is suffering from a pandemic?

When the GDP of any country goes down, the new project helps improve it. Private companies are afraid to start something new so the government should start new plans to run the economy. World history states that public infrastructure projects play a crucial role in restoring economies in trouble. For example, the Tokyo Tower in Japan, built after World War II, provided employment to thousands of workers, encouraged nationalism, and contributed to the resurrection of the Japanese economy. The government claimed that the Central Vista redevelopment project will help to improve the GDP of the country as it would employ around 10,000 people [17].

Q: The construction work is going on amidst the lockdown and the pandemic. Is it necessary?

As delimitation is going to take place in 2026, more space would be needed; Thus, the new building should be ready to use. The existing building block took 6 years to complete construction so by the assumption it is the right time to start the construction.

According to the Delhi Disaster Management Act of 2005, construction activities during curfew or lockdown are permitted, while labours are residing on-site [18]. As per the government guidelines of lockdown during the pandemic, all industrial and civil work can be continued during the lockdown with the condition that staff related to the project are staying at the site in a safe, CoVID compliant facility [19]. The same is in the case of central vista development. At present, around 400 construction workers are being provided food and shelter at CoVID compliant facility. [18]

Q: Why the photography and videography are prohibited at the construction site?

As we all know, the parliament, central secretariat, prime minister house is the most secured place of the country. If the photo or video of the construction site is leaked, there is a chance of a security breach because of the availability of the building plan including the escape routes.

Q: What will happen to the old buildings? Are we destroying the masterpiece work done by Lutyens?

No. The old parliament house building will continue to be in use by retrofitting it to provide more functional space for parliamentary events. Once the new building is constructed, the old one will be retrofitted and will be retained as a heritage building. [10]

Q: The budget of central vista can be allocated to the vaccination drive, but it did not happen. Is not the project being a waste of money?

A necessary budget allocation for the project cost of about INR 13,500 Crore has been made in 2019 itself that brings annual expenditure to just around 2700 crore [7]. No additional spending is being made beyond the previously sanctioned budget. Further, India’s healthcare budget is increased to 137% in the pandemic which is 2.23 Lakh crore [20]. Thus, COVID relief activities and vaccination drives will not get hampered in any way due to this project.

References

[1] A. K. Menon, “Behind Modi’s Plans to Redevelop the Central Vista is a Covert Political Agenda,” The Wire, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://thewire.in/urban/behind-modis-plans-to-redevelop-the-central-vista-is-a-covert-political-agenda.
[2] R. K. Srivastava, “What is ‘Central Vista’ and why it is being opposed; Zee explains the controversial project,” Zee News, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://zeenews.india.com/india/what-is-central-vista-and-why-it-is-being-opposed-zee-explains-the-controversial-project-2361620.html.
[3] “Central Vista Redevelopment Project,” Wikipedia, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Vista_Redevelopment_Project.
[4] “What is the Central Vista Project?,” Jagran Josh, [Online]. Available: https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/central-vista-project-1607342422-1.
[5] “Government responds to Newslaundry article on Central Vista,” News Laundry, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.newslaundry.com/2021/06/02/government-responds-to-newslaundry-article-on-central-vista.
[6] R. Nandula, “Why 93-year-old Parliament building needs a bigger, better replacement,” The Hindu – Business Line, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/data-stories/data-focus/why-93-year-old-parliament-building-needs-a-bigger-better-replacement/article33339308.ece.
[7] R. Madhav, “Times face-off: Is Central Vista an ill-timed vanity project or a much-needed makeover,” The Times of India, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/times-face-off-is-central-vista-an-ill-timed-vanity-project-or-a-much-needed-makeover/articleshow/83016274.cms.
[8] A. Sharma, “Is India’s grand Central Vista project too extravagant?,” DW – News from Germany and around the world, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.dw.com/en/india-central-vista-project-extravagance/a-55974614.
[9] “The Central Vista Redevelopment Project– Criticisms vs Reality,” The True Picture, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.thetruepicture.org/central-vista-redevelopment-project-parliament-congress-delhi/.
[10] K. Sarkar, “Earthquake resistant, paperless offices: What will the new Parliament building be like,” The Hindustan Times, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/earthquake-resistant-paperless-offices-what-will-the-new-parliament-building-be-like/story-xf2ZskfmnUjseF38irPe2I.html.
[11] B. Abraham, “Here’s Why The Construction Of Central Vista & New Parliament Building Have Been Controversial,” IndiaTImes, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/central-vista-new-parliament-building-controversy-overall-529378.html.
[12] R. Das, “Central Vista Project: Why India needs a new parliament building and a central secretariat complex, and how they will look like,” OpIndia, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.opindia.com/2020/12/central-vista-why-india-needs-new-parliament-building-and-secretariate/.
[13] S. Verma, “CENTRAL VISTA PROJECT: FACTS VERSUS PROPAGANDA,” The Daily Guardian, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://thedailyguardian.com/central-vista-project-facts-versus-propaganda/.
[14] “Plea to stop Central Vista construction project during pandemic , SC says it will consider,” The Times of India, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/plea-to-stop-central-vista-construction-project-during-pandemic-sc-says-it-will-consider/articleshow/82401344.cms.
[15] “Delhi HC verdict dismissing plea to halt Central Vista work during COVID challenged in Supreme Court,” The New Indian Express, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/jun/02/delhi-hc-verdict-dismissing-plea-to-halt-central-vista-work-during-covid-challenged-in-supreme-court-2310855.html.
[16] R. Banka, “’Project of national importance’: Delhi High Court junks plea to halt Central Vista,” The Hindustan Times, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/project-of-national-importance-delhi-hc-junks-plea-to-halt-central-vista-101622437749486.html.
[17] P. Chandavarkar, “View: Does the Central Vista Redevelopment Project set undesirable precedents for the future?,” The Economic Times, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/et-commentary/view-does-the-central-vista-redevelopment-project-set-undesirable-precedents-for-the-future/articleshow/83243397.cms.
[18] S. Verma, “Central Vista Project—A necessity, not a luxury,” Bangalore Mirror, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/opinion/others/central-vista-projecta-necessity-not-a-luxury/articleshow/82719039.cms.
[19] S. R. Barman, “Delhi lockdown extended till May 3: What is allowed and what is not,” The Indian Express, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/delhi-lockdown-extended-till-may-3-7288450/.
[20] R. Kaul, “In pandemic age, 137% increase in budget on health, well-being,” The Hindustan Times, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/in-pandemic-age-137-increase-in-budget-on-health-wellbeing-101612206329196.html.

Disclaimer:

The views and facts presented in this article are solely from various sources and articles. The author does not take responsibility for the data and facts presented here.