The Narendra Modi government is so possessed by its plan to redevelop the Central Vista , the 3-km long stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, that even a devastating pandemic is no distraction from it. In fact, amid the nation’s chaotic battle against COVID-19, the Centre has been rushing ahead, ignoring pleas to pause it for further deliberations. The plan is also to construct a new Parliament building by March 2022 and a common central secretariat by March 2024 along with new residences for the Prime Minister and the Vice President near South and North Blocks which will be repurposed as museums. There will be a new building for the PMO. A draft master plan by a private firm contracted by the government has proposed a triangular-shaped Parliament building next to the existing heritage structure, and office buildings all along Rajpath, after demolishing existing buildings. Till date, the government has not publicly stated the project’s estimated cost. The construction of the new parliament building, according to the CPWD application for environmental clearance for the project on March 12, is estimated to cost ₹922 crore. The Centre has given a range of reasons behind the redevelopment plan, from the structural safety of the Parliament building and the North and South Blocks, which came up between 1911 and 1931, and once delimitation is done and the number of seats increase, to the need for more space to seat MPs and office space for all of them. For the post-Independence buildings such as Shastri Bhawan and Krishi Bhawan, it has cited the need for modern workspaces.
The decision on redevelopment was taken in a hurry and without adequate consultations. The utility of such a massive redevelopment is not easily defendable but the Modi government is evidently eager to recondition the capital’s landscape as its monumental legacy. The Opposition, environmentalists, architects and citizens have raised a range of concerns even before the pandemic brought in additional issues. But far from pausing, several key approvals for the proposed Parliament building have been pushed during the lockdown, leading to allegations of a lack of transparency. Independent expert members of the Central Vista Committee could not attend the meeting where it was passed without much discussion, as per the minutes of the meeting. The process for change of land use by the Delhi Development Authority was completed just before the lockdown began on March 25. Activists and architects have questioned the lack of studies to ascertain the need for the project and its impact on the environment, traffic and pollution. There were enough reasons to be circumspect about this grand idea from the very beginning. In the situation created by the pandemic, it must be deferred and the idea revisited later.