SC Clears Central Vista Redevelopment Plan But Not All Are Happy

A new Parliament building by July 2022. A new Central Secretariat by March 2024. And a revamped Rajpath.

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Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

India’s power corridor – Central Vista – in Lutyens’ Delhi is all set for a makeover.

A new Parliament building by July 2022.

A new Central Secretariat by March 2024.

And a revamped Rajpath — a 3-km-long stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.

All of this and more is on the cards of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Central Vista Redevelopment Plan. But why has it been raising doubts – and objections – from different quarters?

1. What is the Central Vista Redevelopment Project?

Central Vista is the heart of India's power. It is the area on both sides of Rajpath – from Rashtrapati Bhawan to Princes’ Park near India Gate.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament, North Block, South Block, Vice-President's House and Central Secretariat –– all come under Central Vista. So do institutions like National Museum, National Archives, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts or IGNCA, Udyog Bhawan, Bikaner House, Hyderabad House, Nirman Bhawan and Jawahar Bhawan.

The ruling government's plan to revamp this entire area is what the Central Vista Redevelopment Project is all about.

2. Who is Designing this New Central Vista?

In September 2019, the Central Public Works Department issued a notice inviting proposals from architects for a project to redevelop this area. The bid to design the project was won by an Ahmedabad-based firm called HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt Ltd in October 2019.

The firm is headed by architect Dr Bimal Patel who has been involved in projects like the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, Central Vista redevelopment at Gandhinagar and the Mumbai Port Complex.

HCP Design will be paid Rs 229 crore for its consultancy services in designing the masterplan and offering cost estimates.

3. What Will be Demolished? And What Will be New?

The proposed redevelopment has two main features – a new Parliament building by July 2022, to coincide with India's 75th Independence year. And a new common Central Secretariat which is set to come up by March 2024.

The Central Secretariat, which will come up where IGNCA and Raksha Bhawan currently are, will have eight buildings. Each building will have eight floors – and will house about 25,000-32,000 employees working from all the ministries. Currently, only 22 of the 51 Union ministries fall under the Central Vista.

India will be getting a new Parliament. It will be triangular and will have the capacity to seat 900 to 1,200 MPs. It’s being said that the 900-seating capacity is to allow space for joint sessions of both the Houses. According to the proposed new redesign, the Lok Sabha hall will provide 50 percent more space to each MP, which could be used by assistant researchers to the MPs, for example.

What else will be new? The PM's residence and his office.

The new PM's residence is expected to move behind South Block on Raisina Hill. Since the emphasis of the redesign is on efficiency, a new PMO will come up at South-East corner, behind South Block. That's about 2.8 kilometers away from each other. Similarly, the VP’s residence will be behind North Block.

Rashtrapati Bhawan will remain untouched. According to the pitch video by HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt Ltd, there are also plans to retrofit and showcase museums in the North Block and the South Block – reportedly focussed on ‘Making of Modern India’ and ‘India at 75.’

Besides, the current building of the National Museum, constructed in 1960, will be demolished and the museum will be relocated. No building under the new plan will be taller than the India Gate, to maintain the war memorial's glory.

4. Okay, Why are Architects, Heritage Conservationists & Environmentalists Not Happy?

Not everyone is happy with the Central Vista redevelopment project. Since the bid for the project was announced, the project has faced a barrage of petitions by citizens’ collectives on the proposed land use changes in the project, the lack of transparency in the process and concern over Delhi’s heritage being destroyed.

  • No Transparency in the Bidding Process: Only six firms were deemed eligible and unlike precedents set in similar international bids, there was no two-stage competition. The eligible firms submitted proposals and one firm was chosen – all within seven weeks.
  • Timeline of the Project: Many are questioning the rush in making the Central Vista proposal a reality. The revamping of the Central Vista landscape, for one, is slated by the end of 2020.
  • Change in Land Use: As many as 80 acres of land, which is currently accessible to the public, will become 'restricted' and can only be accessed by government officials. Architects argue that the change in land use is 'legally not tenable' – and that there is no provision to compensate for those spaces that won't remain accessible to public.
  • Heritage Won't be Protected: No heritage audit has been carried out for the project. Even Grade 1 heritage buildings like the National Museums – basically, buildings which are of national importance and architectural excellence – will be demolished or modified under the proposed redevelopment.
  • Trees Being Cut: No environment audit of the project has taken place either. At least 1,000 trees will be cut. There is also no plan on how the green cover will be replenished for the 80 acres of land which is being redeveloped.
  • No Public Consultations or Detailed Studies: Urban planners have argued that for a project of this magnitude, public consultations and studies should have been conducted to assess the project's impact on traffic, heritage in Delhi and environment.

To deal with the objections, the DDA held a two-day public hearing. Except, only a day's notice was given for it. The hearing was attended by 1,292 people. The proposed change in land use by DDA under the new redevelopment was challenged in the high court through two petitions. On 11 February, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to DDA and the Centre and told them to file responses within two weeks.

As petitions by citizens' collectives, architects and environmental NGOs continue to push for revisions, what next? Will the objections make an impact? Or will Delhi's landscape change forever?

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