Does India Need a ₹20,000-crore Central Vista and Parliament in the Midst of a Global Pandemic?

Coronavirus

Does India Need a ₹20,000-crore Central Vista and Parliament in the Midst of a Global Pandemic?

Even as a return to normalcy seems increasingly distant for most of India in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak and the ensuing shutdown, government officials working on the plan to construct a new Central Vista and Parliament building in New Delhi are confident that the project will proceed as per expectations and be ready by August 2022.

According to reports, the tendering process for the mammoth project is now on track, and expected to be floated as soon as the lockdown is lifted. An Ahmedabad-based firm, HCP Design, Planning and Management, which is serving as the consultant on the project told The Hindu that the design as of now is sufficient for issuing tenders, while the process for the detailed design would run concurrent with the selection of a contractor. This timeline looks set to match Union Housing and Urban Affairs (HUA) Minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s expectation that the building would be ready for use by Independence Day, 2022.

The proposed redevelopment is no small task. Last month, when submitting a form for clearance, the Central Public Works Department said that the cost of the project had gone up from ₹776 crore to ₹922 crore. The central government has already allocated ₹20,000 crore for the project, a huge sum that has caused critics to question why the funds are not being used in fighting the spread of Covid-19 instead.

According to reports, the tendering process for the mammoth project is now on track, and expected to be floated as soon as the lockdown is lifted

Opposition politicians from across the country, from NCP chief Sharad Pawar, CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, and TMC parliamentarian Mahua Moitra included, have called out the ruling party for pushing ahead with the project at a time when India’s economy is facing a bleak future due to the fallout of the Covid-19 epidemic. Congress’ Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to PM Modi last week in which she urged that the project be put on hold. In it, she said, “At a time like this, such an outlay seems self-indulgent to say the least. I am certain that Parliament can function comfortably within the existing historical buildings. There is no urgent or pressing requirement that cannot be postponed until this crisis is contained.”

However, the government has provided its own reasons for why this redevelopment is necessary. HUA minister Puri had, in March, said that the existing Parliament building was “showing signs of distress and over-utilisation”. Other reasons put forward include the fact that the present building was not equipped to house an increased number of parliamentarians as the strength of the Lok Sabha increases over time. In addition to the new Parliament House, there are also plans to develop a common Central Secretariat for all ministries along the newly refurbished Central Vista.

At a time when the local area development funds of Members of Parliament have been suspended to funnel resources to fighting Covid-19, the decision to press ahead with a costly, expensive project like the Central Vista redevelopment is one that might still end up being problematic for the BJP.

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