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Central Vista, which is the main boulevard of New Delhi extending from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate, is one of the most visited tourist places in Delhi Image Credit: Supplied

“If all goes as planned, the people of India will have their own modern temple of democracy ready before Diwali of 2022,” Bimal Patel, Ahmedabad-based architect who has designed the new Indian Parliament complex in New Delhi, told Gulf News.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put his weight behind the grand project which is being expedited as a top priority. Since Independence a very few public projects have enraged the intellectuals as much as the project of redevelopment of the four sq km area of “Central vista” spread out between the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the India Gate in the heart of Delhi.

Spate of legal challenges

There are around a dozen petitions in the Supreme Court against various aspects of the proposed project including the environmental impact of the proposed construction to the absence of due process in awarding the prestigious contract worth Rs970 crore where only six bidders could participate.

The petitioner’s main contention has been that “the government is undesirably disturbing the legacy and the greatest stage of political theatre in India.” Political opponents of Modi are aware that if this project materialises then it would immortalise the Modi era in contemporary Indian history.

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Since the rise of the leadership of Narendra Modi there is raging debate for and against India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his version of secularism and socialist model of development. Although the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party has proactively evoked issues like resetting the historical status of Jammu and Kashmir, the political-cultural act to redesign and rebuild the “symbol of the Indian power” is seen as a step ahead. Observers note that the project is symbolic of how Modi thinks of his own rule and how he wants to define India’s future.

Hardeep Puri, union minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, under whose ministry the project is being developed told Gulf News, “This Parliament was built not for the Independent democratic India. The British built it as a chamber for meeting of Princes and the State Council. Also, its architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker didn’t complete the entire Central Vista project after building Rashtrapati Bhawan, North and South Blocks and the Parliament due to turmoil of that time. Since then, we are doing ad hoc addition to the building and have built buildings around it for the government’s administrative requirements. We are paying Rs1000 crore as a rental to hire office spaces.”

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Image Credit: Supplied/Sheela Bhatt

The new parliament’s sauve designer Bimal Patel claims the building will “seamlessly synchronise with current Lutyens-Baker’s designs. The old and the new Parliament buildings will look similar, like cousins if not siblings.” New parliament will have a built-up area of 65,000 square metres (current 44,940 square metres). The old one had 552 seats in Lok Sabha and 245 in Rajya Sabha, new one will have 888 seats and 384 seats respectively. The joint session of 1272 members will be possible. The state of art building with six gates will have 120 offices, a library and museum.

Symbol of 21st century sovereign Indian power

Puri argues strongly that the Indian administration deserves the modern workstations, need better space utilisation, better sound systems, need fire and earthquake proof buildings which could be proud symbol of the 21st century sovereign Indian power. The current building is in use since 1927 and is a bad shape due to unplanned additions.

Manju Menon, acclaimed environmentalist told Gulf News, “We have serious issues with the project. The central vista heritage precinct belongs to the people of India. It is unacceptable that this government thinks it owns this place and wants to make use of the “wasted space” by filling it up with sarkari buildings. This project is a land grab of the most publicly valued space in Delhi.”

Critics object to the title given to the project “Expansion and Renovation of existing Parliament building” because the new parliament building is not merely an expansion nor renovation. It’s a new ambitious creation. The government has in its defence argued that both buildings will supplement each other for functional requirements in terms of office space, committee rooms and library. The existing parliament building shall be renovated and retrofitted while preserving its heritage Grade- I character.

Menon and many other architects are upset. Menon claims, “This project reflects everything that is wrong with urban planning and environmental governance.”

However, Bimal Patel is feverishly working on the project but is well-aware of criticism. Obviously, he understands political and historic elements behind the project.

Generating employment

He told Gulf News, “Its unfortunate that things are politicised. When societies are in transition and levels of trust are low, criticism happens. Our debates are now extreme.” He adds that those who are against the projects should read more facts of it. “In times of economic downturn, such public spending greatly helps generate employment.”

Interestingly, the divide over the issue is well-reflected and articulated before the Supreme court. Shyam Divan, one of the most sought-after senior lawyers in the Apex court argued on behalf of the opponents of the project about how “every law is broken” and how the government is not sharing data.

However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta presented government’s response. In response to the charge that there is no people’s participation in project, he said that the Constitution of India does not expressly grant the people a right to participate in the lawmaking process.

The government has assured the court that none of the heritage buildings will be demolished. The government has assured, “So far as the North Block and South Block are concerned, they will also be retrofitted and would be used as Museums to showcase the pre and post 1857 India.” The retrofitted central hall will be used only for ceremonial purposes.

When Patel was asked how will the new building look like, he said, “the new parliament building will portray simplicity and confidence of India. It is exciting for me that, if compared to the British, it’s a reverse situation where government administration sits on plains and on the Raisina Hill, the South and North blocks will have the India’s past. This project is transformative in nature.” Both sides are waiting for the Supreme Court’s final say on Modi’s project that would define his legacy and India’s future.

BIO Sheela Bhatt
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