On December 10, a little over a year after the government announced its ambitious plan to redevelop the 3-km-long historical stretch from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate known as the Central Vista, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the first part of the project by laying the foundation stone for the new Parliament building .
While the bhoomi pujan, performed by Mr. Modi, marked the beginning of the project, construction will only start after the Supreme Court disposes of all challenges to the project that are pending before it. Ever since Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Puri announced the project in September 2019, activists, environmentalists, architects and Opposition leaders have questioned the need for the project, the processes for obtaining approvals for it and the costs involved.
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The Supreme Court on December 7 allowed the government to go ahead with the foundation stone ceremony, but only after the Centre gave an affidavit, saying there would be no construction, demolition and cutting of trees till the court gives its rulings in the cases.
The plan, as drafted by Ahmedabad-based HCP Design, Planning and Management, involves constructing a triangular shaped Parliament building adjacent to the existing one that was built in the 1920s by the British; demolishing the post-Independence office buildings along the Central Vista and replacing them with 10 modern multi-storey office complexes to house all Ministries; and revamping the civic infrastructure and facilities for the Republic Day parade on Rajpath.
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The need for the project, according to the government’s arguments in court and Mr. Puri’s public statements in the past year, is that the existing Parliament House is almost 100 years old, structurally unsafe, and lacks adequate workspace for a modern legislature. Similarly, the 10 new office buildings proposed are required to bring all Central Ministries in one place, making the functioning of the government more efficient, according to the government.
Space for more MPs
Another reason touted by the government is the expected increase in number of constituencies after delimitation, which is frozen till the first Census after 2026, which will be in 2031.
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The Parliament House now would not be able to accommodate additional MPs, the government has maintained.
Apart from the more practical reasons given, Mr. Modi’s speech at the groundbreaking ceremony invoked symbolism of a new Parliament as a temple of democracy, built by an Independent and Atmanirbhar India. He asked Indians to to pledge to keep “India First”.
The design of the new building will also reflect that, with the national emblem crowning the structure; the national bird, peacock, and the national flower, lotus, providing inspiration for the interiors of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha chambers, respectively; and arts and crafts from across the country being represented.
In a written statement to The Hindu , HCP Design, which is headed by Padma Shri-awardee Bimal Patel, said: “The proposed Parliament building will be the first purpose-designed building for the Parliament of India. Presently, Parliament is accommodated in a building that was built as the council house for the Raj.”
Spread over 64,500 sq. ft of built-up area, the new building will have a Lok Sabha chamber with the capacity to seat 1,272 and a Rajya Sabha chamber with 384 seats and a Central Constitutional Gallery that will be open to the public. Offices for all MPs will be built after demolishing the existing Shram Shakti Bhawan and connected to Parliament via an underground pathway.
The project was awarded to Tata Projects for ₹971 crore after a two-step bid process earlier this year. The construction is expected to take 22 months and is scheduled to finish in time for the Winter Session of Parliament in 2022, when India marks 75 years of Independence.
Critics of the project have questioned the timing, given that the economy is still reeling under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi was among those who urged the government to suspend the project and reallocate the funds to healthcare needs. Mr. Puri has responded by saying the project will lead to employment generation and an increase in economic activity.
Another concern raised by environmentalists has been the quick process of approvals and cutting of trees, some of which are 80 to 90 years old. Recently, the Delhi Forest Department issued a notice to the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), which is carrying out the project, for violating the conditions of the approval to cut trees.
In response to the questions raised and the Supreme Court’s decision not to allow construction for now, Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra told The Hindu that all the legal processes had been followed. He said he was hopeful that the court would give its decisions soon. The project, he said, was for all Indians, not any individual.
While the CPWD waits for the court’s nod, preparatory works have been on for months. The iconic statue of Mahatma Gandhi facing the entrance of Parliament is being shifted to make way for sound-proofing walls.
The other components of the plan are at the planning stage, according to government officials.
The CPWD has floated a request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue, the last date for which is December 14. The design of the 10 new Secretariat buildings is yet to be finalised; however, it is likely that construction of one of the buildings on the plot that the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) occupies may start first. The IGNCA is being shifted to the Janpath Hotel temporarily, before a new campus is developed.
The fourth part of the plan, which was not a part of the CPWD’s requirements when it asked for designs from prospective consultants but was included nonetheless by the winning bidder, HCP, is the construction of a new Prime Minister’s Office, PM’s Residence and Vice-President’s Enclave.
These buildings are expected to be located near South and North Blocks, on land that is currently housing defence offices in temporary structures called hutments. The process of relocating the defence personnel is on, with new buildings being constructed outside the Vista.
The government is yet to publicly state the cost of the entire project. However, sources say, it could cost at least ₹11,000 crore and take up to six years to complete. While it may not be clear yet how much of a dent the project will make on the exchequer, once it is completed, the skyline of Lutyens’ Delhi will be changed forever.