As the globe mourns the loss of many loved ones to a devastating pandemic, countries have braced themselves and prepared for a full-fledged battle against an unseen virus by halting all non-essential projects.
The Indian government has been hooked on the Central Vista rehabilitation project, which has been allocated a budget of ₹20,000 crores, or 1% of the disputed relief package proposed by Prime Minister Modi in his trademark 8 pm speech, which, after further disclosure by the country’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, came down to anywhere between ₹2 lakh crores as the overall money spent from the government treasury.
The government’s priority in crisis time remains questionable regarding the above-mentioned figures regarding Central Vista Revamp Budget and the COVID-19 Relief package.
The 3 km region between Rashtrapati Bhawan and India Gate is known as Central Vista, and it is where the national parades take place.
When the quantity should have been held secure until the pandemic had seized to zero patients, the government has heavily rushed the redevelopment plan on a fast track basis. But the centre is firmly behind the plan, which has sparked a slew of concerns. Is it because the plan seeks to achieve its final stages in 2024 when the general assembly elections are being held?
To present a gift to the RSS, the BJP’s parent organisation, on its 100th anniversary in 2024? Is the government’s desire to obliterate all non-Hindu heritage unquenchably? Empower Modi-Shah’s famously known pet architect Bimal Patel? The questions remain endless and so are the speculations.
However, the number of COVID patients and deaths is increasing, necessitating the greatest resourcefulness. However, the focus is not undivided, and it is wavering between personal government benefits and party-based accomplishments. It’s strange that governments, which are supposed to be public servants with social welfare as their top priority, are complicit in an opaque initiative that keeps residents in the dark.
The renovation plan focuses on constructing a new parliament building on a triangular area in front of the old parliament and the renovation of several government buildings and the construction of a mansion for the Prime Minister and Vice President. In addition, the plans call for alterations to national archives and the demolition and alteration of some structures.
Beautification of a country is valued and required, but not at the expense of long-term growth. When a country lacks medications and healthcare and is fighting a pandemic, it is inhuman to invest in materialistic beauty. What benefit will a beautiful gigantic bonanza bring if a country’s human resource is in jeopardy?
Apart from ignoring the importance of the health sector, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, MHUA’s fast plan, rushed through the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) also disregarded a slew of legal possibilities.
The north and south block buildings, the national archives and parliament house, and the campus were listed as Grade I heritage precincts in a 2009 notification. Grade I heritage consists of structures, buildings and precincts of high national and historic importance embodying excellence in architectural design, designs, visuals and aesthetics that are prime landmarks of the region.
The rule was notified under the Delhi Development Act, 1957. The act’s standards for categorisation as Grade I heritage under the unified building Byelaws for Delhi, 2016, remain identical in case of any suspicion over the regulation’s timelapse.
“None or no intervention shall be permitted in Grade I heritage and precincts unless it is absolutely necessary for the interest of strengthening or prolonging their life, and that only absolutely necessary and minimal adjustments would be allowed in compliance with the original,” the consolidated Byelaws declare.
A proposal was submitted to UNESCO in 2012 by the then ruling government, after decades of meticulous work, to deem Delhi city, including the central vista, as a world heritage site because it met the due criteria laid down by UNSECO for a world heritage site. But in 2015, the proposal was withdrawn because it did not meet the due criteria laid down by UNSECO for a world heritage site.
The Modi led central government withdrew the proposal and left people out of wits to imagine a reason behind not letting buildings turning century-old soon become a heritage site.
The flaws are deeply rooted in the systematic slit of public opinion regarding the idea and design of the revamp. As the process suggests, the permission for the revamp was to be processed through the Municipal Authority, which then consults the Heritage Conservation Committee, which is bound to invite and consider public objection before granting permission.
Except for one formality, such as a step that Delhi takes, no details regarding this process are visible to the general public.
On 6 and 7 February, the Development Authority, DDA, asked for suggestions, and a total of 2,000 persons wrote to DDA opposing the Central Vista design. Only 1,292 people were called to a meeting on the 6 and 7 February, 2020 to express their opinions in about 9 hours every day, leaving each individual with the difficult challenge of presenting their opinions in just two and a half minutes, demonstrating that the will to genuinely listen and extract relevant suggestions was uncommon.
During the lockdown on 23 April, when people battled worry and sickness through a virtual meeting, the government plan to build a new parliament building was approved by CPWD without the presence of any non-government members of IIA and ITP. Many emailed to ask for the meeting to be postponed.
They could not attend due to COVID travel restrictions, yet, without batting an eye, the meeting was held on the scheduled day, highlighting the government’s terrible desire to carry out the plan no matter what may come.
While the environmental implications of this revamp have yet to be discussed, it has been speculated that while nearly 80 acres of land that was previously used for public recreation will be redeveloped, a significant amount of waste that 23 lakh people can consume will be used in this construction project.
The second of two Supreme Court petitions to rethink the proposal was sought to be withdrawn, with permission to make revisions in the first petition granted by a court led by CJI Bobde, who stated that any building work could not begin during the pandemic lockdown. Advocate Prashant Bhushan has accused CJI Bobde of using the judiciary to undermine the democratic system.