FEATURE/ CENTRAL VISTA
KS Shankar/ New Delhi
TIMES are changing, and so are the landscapes in the national capital fashioned by Eduard Luyten in the pre-Independence days, mainly in the first half of the 20th Century. India will soon have a new Parliament building, not far from the present iconic, round-shaped edifice that has been a marvel in itself.
The new parliament building is conceived as part of a larger central administrative complex styled as the Central Vista, for housing key administrative establishments of the central government. The complex will also see a separate iconic building for Prime Minister as his residence and one for Vice President.
While India has a massive Presidential estate styled as Rashtrapati Bhavan for the nation’s head of state, the prime minister in successive governments lived in one or other place allotted by the government for residential purpose. There, however, is criticism that the new complex, styled as the Central Vista project, will eat away large parts of the green belt in a vast expanse between the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the India Gate. This will be close to the stretch where Republic Day parades are held every year.
New Delhi became the capital of the British Raj in 1911, after the Raj shifted its base from Calcutta in the east. Luyten had famously left one-third of the new capital as a green zone; which began losing its space for development in the second half of the twentieth Century, mainly from the time ASIAD games were held in the capital in the 1980s. High-rise buildings started dotting landscape thereafter, leading to road congestion, water shortage etc.
The design of the existing brick-laid Parliament House was conceived by Luyten and another architect Sir Herbert Baker during the 1912-13 period. The building was opened by year 1927 for the British Raj to hold representatives’ assembly meets.
LAND FOR THE NEW PROJECT
The Centre had notified land-use changes for the redevelopment of the area in the heart of the capital, changing the character of the area as a heritage zone. This is a beautiful 3.2km stretch flanked by greenery and dotted by eye-catching structures such as the Parliament Building and the Central Secretariat, at a short distance away.
Questions are raised by environmentalists and others about the selection of the spot for the new complex. For one, they fear, this will add to the congestion of the area in terms of traffic. Does Delhi really need 10 new massive concrete structures, as is conceived by the Modi government, they ask.
The ambitious project costing a whopping Rs20,000 crore has been on the Modi government’s agenda for several months now. The Covid-linked constraints will not hold it back, the government has made clear.
The redevelopment plan includes, apart from the construction of a new Parliament House and new residences for the prime minister and vice president, construction of new buildings along Rajpath to house the vast army of central government employees. A host of old buildings are to be demolished to make way for this “new capital hub”.
In fact, proposals for a new parliament building to replace the existing complex emerged in the early 2010s on account of stability concerns over the older structure which is nearly a century old. A committee to suggest alternatives to the current building had been set up in 2012 by the then Speaker Mira Kumar.
PROBLEMS WITH PRESENT BUILDING
The present building, though magnificent, suffers from inadequacy of space to house more parliament members (MPs) and their staff and suffers from structural issues. The building also needs to be protected because of its high heritage value. The Modi government in its second term, last year, launched the Central Vista Redevelopment Project.
TATAS TO BUILD IT
The Tata Projects Ltd has, in September this year, won the bid to construct the new Parliament building at a cost of Rs861.90 crore, Tata Projects pipped Larsen and Toubro Ltd that had submitted a bid of Rs865 crore. The government had estimated a cost of Rs940 crore for the project, likely to be completed in a year’s time. The government wants the new Parliament building to be ready by March 2022, well in time for events marking the completion of 75 years of India’s Independence from the British Raj. Apart from constructing the building, Tata Projects financial bid also includes a five-year maintenance contract.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar, which was hearing the petitions raising questions over environmental clearance (EC) granted to the project, meanwhile said the allegations regarding change of land use is the threshold issue. “We make it clear that the court will first begin with the hearing of a broad issue regarding challenge to the change of land use being contrary to the provisions of Delhi Development Act, 1957,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna.
Gujarat-based architecture firm HCP Designs has won the consultancy bid for the Centre’s ambitious project to redevelop the Central Vista. The project envisages a new triangular Parliament building with seating capacity for 900 to 1,200 MPs, that is targeted to be constructed by August, 2022. By the time the next polls are held to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, the constituency reorganization exercise will increase the current strength of seats in the lower house, and more inductions will be done for the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha as well. The present parliament house cannot accommodate the new inductions.
The groundwork for the Central Vista project has begun and the agencies have started digging soil in a plot where the Parliament building will come up. Last month,
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on April 7. 2020 wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, putting forward objections and suggestions regarding the Central Vista project. She urged the PM to suspend the project in view of the present economic constraints the government is facing due to the Covid-linked lockdowns.
The Modi government is bent on going ahead with the project, and its completion can be expected as per set schedule. To raise funds, the Centre plans to suspend the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) Funds release for two years. This fund is meant for constituency development works undertaken by each MP on his own at his or her constituency. IHN-NN
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