Priority of New India @75: Central Vista and Catastrophic Coronavirus Pandemic

Tikender Singh Panwar

A fascist leader wants to leave an imprint of his glory on Delhi. If the construction of Volksshalle was the idea of Adolf Hitler, designed and planned by his architect Albert Speer, the proposal of construction of a new Parliament building along with the re-development of the Central Vista (CV) in Delhi is the idea of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to be executed by his favourite architect Bimal Patel. Something big, and in line with the ethos of fascism is the model that is desired to be built.

The presentations made by Bimal Patel at different events clearly show the reason for adopting a triangular structure for the new Parliament, while the present one is circular. Hindu sacred geometry is sought to be infused into our secular, democratic republic. But for this exhibition of religious symbolism, there is no other reason to undertake the whole Central Vista project, especially at this time.

It goes against the syncretic basis of the Central Vista, which was designed by the British architects Edward Lutyens and Herbert Baker. According to historian Swapna Liddle, the British left their architecture in Calcutta, and in the construction of domes point to that. Quoting EB Havel, the then British art planner, Liddle says that the Central Vista is like the sulah e kul of Akbar. This was the syncretic ethos in which the Central Vista was designed.

The Plan

The Central Vista extends from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate. It includes North Block, South Block, the Parliament building and other central government secretariat buildings and all the plots of land immediately around them along the Rajpath.

According to the proposed project, for which there is so far no Detailed Project Report (DPR), the re-development of the Central Vista includes construction of the new parliament building at the intersection of Red Cross Road and Raisina Road and the demolition of a few existing secretariat buildings.

Credit: Sajith Kumar
Photo credit: Sajith Kumar

Curiously, for a project of this significance, size and cost, the details are sketchy and the only place to obtain them from are the presentations made by the architect. Nearly 2.5 million square metres of construction will take place. The cost of the project is not clear.

Initially, it was stated to be Rs 12,000 crore, but now it is estimated to be about Rs 20,000 crore, which has been approved without the DPR. Even that, experts say, will escalate as the plans evolve.

Wrong to the core

The Central Vista proposal sounds like a big scandal in the making. As mentioned above, there is no DPR, which could have been contested by different parties. Further, the process – from calling for tender to select the architect to changing the land use to getting environmental clearances — is opaque.

The proposal has shown complete disregard for environmental regulations. Also, there is violation of the basic land laws and it stands in contradiction to the Delhi Master Plans of 1961 as well as 2021. Let us deal with them one by one.

There was no sharing of proposals on the Central Vista. In the absence of a DPR, the architect to the project was selected arbitrarily, violating norms. No preceding studies of the exact requirements of government office space were provided or tabled.

Photo courtesy: iStock Photo

There is also no cost analysis. The manner of awarding the contract is also opaque. The principle followed is QCBS — quality and cost-based selection, a method used for the procurement of goods and which cannot be applied for a project of this kind.

In a project, comparative designs must be first analysed after seeking them through an open public competition administered fairly and transparently and with an eminent jury, as was done for other buildings in the past, such as the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA, which is now to be demolished under Modi’s project), in this very precinct of the Central Vista.

The second major flaw is the violation of the Master Plan for Delhi city. The land use in 1961 and that of the 2021 Master Plans earmark these spaces to be used largely for socio-cultural purposes, thus public buildings.

Other parts were preserved as open green spaces. The proposed new parliament will be built on land which is a ‘designated district park’. The land use for the park cannot be changed.

Even for a change of land use for other spaces, there is a procedure which must be followed. For the Central Vista project, the land use of five plots were changed without due process.

The trick that the government played is that instead of proposing the Central Vista project as one project, which it is as per the tender, it is pursuing it in parts. For instance, environmental clearance was sought, and given, only for the new parliament building, though it is only part of the larger project.

One of the reasons for doing so is to escape having to conduct an environment impact assessment, which would be required if it were treated as part of the whole project.

Thirdly, the argument put forth that the project is necessary because North Block, South Block and the parliament buildings are unsafe is without any basis. No study has been conducted to determine the safety of these buildings.

On the issue of the need for additional space, there is again no study to ascertain the exact needs. In fact, the space in the present parliament building is almost 1.5 times more than the per capita availability of space in the British Parliament.

One of the most important violations to occur under this project is the usurping of the urban commons. These are the spaces which are available to the common people for their recreation and other needs.

With the aggrandisement of these spaces into ‘government’ space and the inevitable security restrictions, the open spaces along the Rajpath are set to diminish.

The government must realise that it is just the custodian of the property which is owned by the people of India as is magnificently described by the Constitution of India.

The custodian has no right to infringe on the spaces of the common people. Doing so will be detrimental to the overall health of society and the polity and the relationship between the governed and the governing.

This article first appeared in Deccan Herald: Central Vista: A waste of money, violation of norms on May 24, 2020.

About the author:

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Tikender Singh Panwar is a former Deputy Mayor of Shimla and Convener of National Coalition for Inclusive Sustainable Urbanisation. . He is also a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.