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Central Vista Project: Why India needs a new parliament building and a central secretariat complex, and how they will look like

Contrary to allegations of change of land use, that public space is being used for constructing buildings under Central Vista project, actually available public space will increase due to rationalisation of land use

One of the major features of the Narendra Modi government has been the opposition the government has faced in almost each and every decision it has taken. Not just issues like Article 370 and triple talaq ban, the opposition parties and left-liberal ecosystem have also opposed important infrastructure projects like highway projects, bullet trains, railway network enhancement, seaport construction etc. One of such projects is the central vista project, including the construction of the new parliament building.

With PM Modi scheduled to conduct the Bhoomi Pujan for the new parliament building on 10th December, the usual suspects have started questioning the project. According to them, there is no need of a new parliament building, as the existing one is sufficient. While some of them are not questioning the need for the project, all of them are asking why now. According to them, including to the Congress party, when the economy is facing hardship and the country is facing a pandemic, the money earmarked for the central vista project should be diverted to social welfare.

Not just Left-liberals and opposition parties, many common people are also asking what is the need for a new parliament building when we already have one. They are asking this because they genuinely don’t know the reason. The article is an attempt to answer those questions, which is mainly based on a presentation by Bimal Patel, the chief architect of the project.

The Central Vista project

The Central Vista project involves the redevelopment of the area known as Central Vista Avenue, the area between the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the India Gate, where all the important buildings related to the union government are located. This project has two main parts, a new parliament building, and a new secretariat complex to bring all the central govt ministries in one place. A third part involves the development of the Rajghat and the area around it, which is available for the general public, including the development of public amenities. This project will involve demolition of some non-heritage buildings in the area, and construction of new buildings in place of them.

The Central Vista was designed by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker, to house the capital of British India. The top of the Raisina Hill and adjacent hills in the area was flattened to create space for the buildings. The original capital included the Viceroy’s House (Rashtrapati Bhawan), the two secretariate buildings (North Block and South Block), The Council House (Parliament House). The National Archive building further down the Rajpath was also built by Lutyens, known as Imperial Record Department at that time. The Rajpath was known as King’s way, and the Janpath was known as Queen’s way.

The entire area on both sides of the Rajpath was an open area, covered by gardens at that time, it didn’t have the various office buildings we see now. According to the original plan by Lutyens and Baker, several other buildings were to be built on that area, for both administrative and cultural purposes. But various reasons like budget constraints, the independence movement, war etc put a halt on the project in 1931, which was never resumed.

In 1947, the government of Independent India occupied the structures in the central vista for the capital. As the original British plan was incomplete, the Indian government later added several buildings for various ministries and departments. The central govt had allocated plots in the area to various ministries, and the ministries added their buildings as per their choice, with no similarity with the existing heritage buildings.

While the original capital built by the British was sufficient for that time, it was not built for a country with 130 crore people. After a century, needs have arisen to add new structures, as the existing ones are no longer sufficient for India’s growing needs. To address these needs, the central vista development project has been envisioned. Now let’s examine each of the component of the project and their need in detail.

Why a new parliament building is needed

The most significant aspect of the project is the construction of a new parliament building. There are several reasons for needing a new building to house the two houses of the parliament. The most important one is, the impending expansion of the size of the parliament. Due to increased population, which have almost quadrupled since independence, there is a need to increase the number of Lok Sabha constituencies through delimitation.

According to the original plan, although the number of Lok Sabha members to remain constant, the number of MPs in states were to be changed every 10 years to reflect the change in population. This change was to ensure that every MP will represent an equal number of citizens. But when the govt of India adopted a policy of population control in 1970s, it posed a problem. If the number of seats was to be re-allocated to states according to population, states that failed to control population growth would be rewarded with more seats, while states that successful in population control program would be punished with lesser seats. This had also led to a North-South conflict, as Southern states were more successful in controlling population compared to Northern states.

Due to this anomaly, the number of Lok Sabha constituencies was frozen in 1976 up to 2001. When this 25-year term was over, it was again pushed back by 25 years, and now the next delimitation exercise is scheduled for 2026, which is fast approaching. With a 50 year-long freeze on the number of MPs, it is expected that it is not going to be postponed one more time. The number of states and the Indian population has increased a lot since 1976, and there is an urgent need to increase the number of Lok Sabha members so that each MP represents a manageable size of the population. It is speculated that the size of the Lok Sabha will be increased to more than 800 from the current strength of 543.

But there is a big problem before the Lok Sabha strength can be increased, the size of the Lok Sabha hall in the Parliament House. There are only 552 seats in the current house, with no scope for adding any new seat. In fact, the wall on the back of Lok Sabha was already taken down, and the corridor next to it was included the Lok Sabha hall to create more space for additional chairs for the MPs. Therefore, the strength of the Lok Sabha can’t be increased without creating space to accommodate all the MPs.

Similarly, the central hall of the parliament, used to hold joint sessions, actually does not have enough seats for the MPs of both houses. The Central hall has around 430 seats, less than the size of Lok Sabha. During joint sessions, temporary chairs are placed on the aisles so that all the members can sit. Certainly not a dignified scene for the parliament of the largest democracy of the world.

The Central hall also serves as the lounge of the parliament, as the building does not have any dedicated lounge for the members to spend their time outside session hours. It is notable that a lounge is not just a place for passing free time, it is also a place where informal discussions take place, networks are built etc. It is a very important place for discussing bills in an informal setting.

The sitting arrangement in all the houses in parliament are of bench type, with longer benches as one moves towards the back of the house. This means, when members enter or exit their place, they have to pass over other members sitting in the same bench. The members also don’t have any desk in front of them, except for the first two rows. From the third row onwards, microphones and voting panels are actually fitted on the backrests of the benches in front of the respecting benches. This is a very clumsy arrangement and does not offer any place for the members to keep their documents and other personal belongings.

Several newly built assembly houses in the country have sitting arrangements with two members per seat, with proper desks and tables. Even many schools and colleges in the country have abandoned benches and introduced single and twin sitting arrangements, but our Parliamentarians still seat on long benches with no desk at all.

Crumbling infrastructure inside Parliament House

The infrastructure of the parliament also antiqued, as they were added at various times as and when required. It has microphones that can’t be switched off, a very old electronic voting system etc. Although the parliament building looks magnificent from the outside, the same is not true about its inside. Due to drilling holes in the walls to run electrical and telecommunication lines, water and sewage pipes, air-conditioning ducts etc, it all looks a mess from inside. Such drillings have also weakened the structure a lot.

Along with that, the area around Delhi has become more earthquake-prone in recent times. But as the original drawings of the building are not available now, it not possible to certify the building as earthquake-proof now. It is notable here that two floors have been added on the top of the parliament building to make space for offices, and it has almost blocked the visibility of the central dome.

Two floors were added to the top of the Parliament House later, blocking the view of the central dome

Due to these reasons, a pressing need was felt to construct a new parliament building. Once the new building is constructed, the old one will be retrofitted and retained as a heritage building. Some functions of the parliament will remain in this building after adequate improvements are made. This includes the library, the parliamentary committee rooms etc.

How the new parliament building will look like

For the new parliament building, a triangular plot next to the current building has been chosen, located to the east of it. The plot currently does not have any significant structure, apart from parking facilities, police barrack etc. As the plot is triangular, the shape of the new parliament house has been chosen as triangular for maximum use of available space.

Old and new Parliament Houses

The new parliament house will have a Lok Sabha hall, a Rajya Sabha hall, a Lounge around a courtyard, and a central space called the Constitution gallery. It will not have a separate central hall, as the Lok Sabha will have enough sitting capacity hold joint sessions. In the triangular building, the Lok Sabha will be at the north-west corner, Rajya Sabha will be at the south-west corner, and the lounge will be at the eastern corner. There will be offices on the outer edges of the building, surrounding the houses and the lounge.

Layout of new parliament building (source: HCP Design)

Although the overall size of the new parliament building is almost similar to the old one, it will have much more floor space. This is because, the circular Parliament House has three large courtyards inside it, while the new one will have just a small courtyard, and most of it will be utilised for functional purposes.

Fort example, the new Lok Sabha hall will be 1315 square meter in size, compared to 470 square meter if the current one. It will also have a much larger lobby, which is almost non-existent at present. However, the office spaces for Lok Sabha will be retained same, as it has been considered sufficient. The comparative sizes of the current and proposed Lok Sabha can be viewed in the drawings below.

Size comparison of old and new Lok Sabha (source: HCP Design)

The Lok Sabha will have a capacity of 876 seats. But the seats are much larger in size, and they can actually hold 1350 persons. Therefore, it will easily accommodate joint sessions of the parliament, not requiring a separate hall for joint sessions. The Lok Sabha will also have more space for visitors on the gallery on the first floor.

The interior of the Lok Sabha will be themed on India’s national bird peacock, and its traditional green colour will be retained.

Similar to Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha will also be much larger in the new Parliament House. It will have 400 seats, to accommodate more members which will be necessitated due to creation of several new states over the last several years. The drawing below shows that the Rajya Sabha will be almost four times the size of the existing one, with much larger main hall and lobby areas, while office space will be slightly reduced.

Size comparison of old and new Rajya Sabha (source: HCP Design)

The interior of the Rajya Sabha will be themed on India’s national flower lotus, and its traditional red colour will be retained.

For seating arrangement in both houses, there will be individual benches for two members, with proper desk in front of them. But the seats are large enough for three persons, which will enable holding of joint sessions in the Lok Sabha hall.

The technology will also much improved, with modern touch interfaces on the desks to help run a paperless digital parliament. The interiors will be built while considering acoustic aspects, so that viewers viewing live proceedings will have much better sound experience.

On the eastern corner of the triangle, the lounge will be located on the ground floor, and dining facilities will be located on the first floor. There will be an open courtyard at the centre of the lounge.

A small library will be located next to the lounge, towards the inside of the building. It will be a place for people to sit and work on their notes etc. The main library of the parliament will remain in its current place.

The central space of the building, a triangular shape, with arms leading to entrances, will be called the Constitution Hall. The three entrances that lead to this central hall will be public galleries, where some important materials related to the parliament and the republic will be located.

Constitution Hall (source: HCP Design)

The Constitution Hall below the central dome will have sculptures and portraits of parliamentarians, and other images representing various aspects of India. To the east of Constitution hall, a space will be created called the Constitution Gallery. The original constitution of India will be displayed here.

On the plot north to the parliament, chambers for the parliamentarians will be built. It currently has some ministry offices, which will be moved to the central secretariate to be built under the central vista project.

The need for Central Secretariate

The second part of the central vista project is the central secretariate, to house the offices of all ministries in one location. At present, the North Block and South Block houses some ministries, while several other buildings added later in the area hosts several other ministries. But despite that, a large number of ministry offices are located outside the central vista area, scattered across the city of Delhi.

Out of the 51 ministries of the union govt, which have around 51,000 employees, 22 ministries are located inside central vista, with around 41,000 employees. The remaining ministries and their around 10,000 employees are located outside this area. This causes lots of movement in the city contributing to traffic, and also causes waste of time in inter-ministerial works.

A large number of offices outside Central Vista are located in rented places. According to govt sources, an amount of around Rs 1000 crore is paid every year for the rents of ministry offices in private buildings. This cost is one of the major reasons of the Central Secretariate project.

The Central Vista area also houses several establishments that are not needed in the area. There are army barracks and defence offices where around 9000 defence personnel work.

How the Central Secretariate will look like

The Central Secretariate project aims to place all the offices of the union govt in the Central Vista area. For this, the secretariate offices of various ministries of the government will be housed in new secretariate buildings in the area, while the defence establishments will be moved out. This will result in net addition of only 1000 people, as while 10000 people will come in, 9000 will go out.

The Central Secretariate will include 10 identical buildings. A conference hall and the national archive will also located in the area.

Proposed Central Secretariat (OpIndia Image)

The secretariate buildings will be rectangular Doughnut shaped buildings, with a large courtyard in the middle. Trees will be planted in the courtyard. They will be built on four plots on the both sides of Rajpath, which are currently fenced plots where various buildings are already located. This means, no extra open space will be used to build the secretariate, it will use the existing used space.

The outside of the buildings will be stone-clad, to match with the existing Lutyens buildings, but the inside facing the courtyard will be covered with glass and steel. The height of the multi-storied buildings will be similar to existing buildings, and they will not be taller than the India Gate, which is 42 meters high.

In three of the four plots, three buildings each will be constructed. But the fourth one, the North-East plot, will have only one secretariate building. In the rest of the place in the plot, a Central Conference Centre will be built. At present, there is no proper conferencing facility at the Central Vista, although the Vigyan Bhawan has some limited facilities. The Conference Centre will have all the modern conferencing facilities.

The existing National Archive building, an old heritage structure, is also part of this plot, which will be retained. A new structure will be added to the National Archive to cater to the growing need.

The central secretariate will be a mass transit-oriented project, as an underground transit system will be constructed which will connect all the buildings with the nearby metro networks. It will be a rectangular underground transit path around the Central Secretariate, using which a shuttle service will move people in and out of the secretariate buildings, eliminating the need of cars for a large number of people.

Facilities for vice President and Prime Minister

At present, the Vice-President’s house is located inside the Central Vista, near the India Gate circle, and it falls within the proposed site for Central Secretariate complex. While the Prime Minister’s residence is outside the Central Vista area. Under the project, both these residences will be moved next to the Rashtrapati Bhawan.

The Vice President’s resident will be built in front of the Rashtrapati Bhawan on the northern side, to the north of the North Block. This plot currently has hutments housing army barracks and offices, which will be moved out.

The Prime Minister’s resident will be located directly opposite to the Vice President’s house, in front of Rashtrapati Bhawan and to the south of South Block. This site also houses hutments which will be moved out. Both will be similar buildings, maintaining the symmetry of the area. Facilities for SPG will be built next to the PM’s house.

To the east of PM’s house, in the diamond-shaped area, the Prime Minister’s Office will be built, along with a garden. This plot is directly opposite to the diamond-shaped plot with the new and old Parliament houses on the other side of Rajpath. This plot also presently has army offices, training colleges etc which are not needed in Central Vista. At present, the PMO is located inside the South Block.

Here is the complete layout of the Central Vista project.

Complete layout of Central Vista project (OpIndia Image)

Relocation of non-secretariate establishments

In order to build the new secretariate buildings, the existing buildings will have to be demolished. These include Shashtri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan, Nirman Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan, Vigyan Bhawan, Vice-President’s House, National Museum, and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). The first four buildings house secretariate offices of various ministries and they will be moved to the new Secretariat complex. It may be noted that some of these buildings are already in bad shape. However, the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan housing the ministry of external affairs is new, which was completed in 2011.

The role of Vigyan Bhawan will be fulfilled by the new conference centre. As already mentioned, a new residence for Vice President will come up near North Block. For the IGNCA, a new building will be built in front of the Hyderabad house on the other side of Rajpath. It will be built to look similar to Hyderabad house, but will have an extended section. The present IGNCA has a small structure as the project was not completed.

The most significant movement will be of the National Museum, currently located between Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan and Vigyan Bhawan on the southern side of Rajpath. The National Museum will be moved to the Heritage buildings of the North Block and South Block. As these two buildings will become empty after the ministry offices move to the new secretariat complex, the National Museum will be relocated to the twin buildings. Thus, these two original buildings built by Lutyens will be available to the general public for unhindered access.

In the plans for the Central Vista project, no new structures are proposed at present at the locations where the Rail Bhawan and Vayu Sena Bhawan are located. Both are identical triangular-shaped buildings directly opposite to each other across the Rajpath, located on triangular plots. Therefore, these two buildings may be retained. On the other side of the Central Vista, on similar triangular plots next to India Gate hexagon, similar triangular buildings are proposed, although their purposes have not been specified.

Development of public areas

Apart from building new structures, the Central Vista project also includes development of the area on the both side of the Rajpath from India Gate to North and South Block buildings, which is available for public. The lawns and gardens will be improved, public amenity facilities will be added, pathways will be rebuilt. New trees will also be planted, as many trees in the area has died, and others are so old that they will die in coming years. For this, a tree species survey is being done to ensure selection of proper species of trees for planting. Specific locations will be identified to located street-side vendors who cater to visitors and tourists.

Contrary to allegations of change of land use, that public space is being used for constructing buildings, actually available public space will increase due to rationalisation of land use. At present several govt buildings have encroached upon public places, which will be freed up after the project is completed.

At present, the lawns on both sides of Rajpath are damaged every year due to the Republic Day parade, as brick and mortar stands are built on them every year, and dismantled after the event. Temporary bridges are also placed on the canals on the both sides of the Rajpath, which also damage the canals. Under the project, permanent bridges will be constructed on the canals. For the Republic Day, mobile stands will be constructed which can be easily installed and dismantled without damaging the ground.

There is also a proposal to carve out an area of approximately 50 acres from the Western end of the Presidential Estate, which will be accessible from the road that runs on the western edge of the Presidential Estate. On the other end, the Central Vista is proposed to be extended to the banks of Yamuna River, where the New India Gardens or the Nav Bharat Udyan will be built to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.

Companies involved in the project

The master plan of the Central Vista project has been prepared by HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd, which had won the bid. The company is headed by renowned architect Bimal Patel, who has designed several public places, including the Sabarmati Riverfront at Ahmedabad, Central Vista project at Gandhinagar and the Mumbai Port Complex. Six companies had submitted bids, from which Patel’s company was selected.

Tata Projects has won the bid for constructing the new parliament building, quoting the lowest cost of Rs 861.9 crore. Seven companies had placed technical bids for the project, from which three were selected for financial bids, Tata Projects, L&T and Shapoorji Pallonji. Only the first two had submitted financial bids after it. The government has set a deadline of March 2022 for the project, in time for the celebration of 75 years of India’s independence.

Tenders for the rest of the project including the Central Secretariate have not been invited yet, as the govt is yet to decide on final shape of the project and demolition of existing buildings.

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