On May 31, Minister for Housing & Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri held a press conference on the Central Vista project. Towards the end of the conference, the minister marked his objection on one of the statements that were made in an ‘open letter’ by former bureaucrats last year that has been making rounds on social media platforms.
“This project began, if reports are to be believed, because of a superstitious belief that the present Parliament building is ‘unlucky’”— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) May 31, 2021
How someone can put their signature on this bizarre letter defies logic! pic.twitter.com/bdsUfnM1za
In the statement, the bureaucrats had said, “There is a great deal wrong with the conceptualization of the project. Rather than establishing the necessity of the project with sound prior studies on environmental and technical parameters, this project began, if reports are to be believed, because of a superstitious belief that the present Parliament building is ‘unlucky’, as well as with the thought of leaving a particular government and its leader’s impress on the architecture of Delhi.”
Puri rebutted the statement and laid down several facts about the project. He said being retired civil servants with decades of experience, these former bureaucrats should not have believed the reports in the first place and should have looked for the facts. He said, “These are not educated fools but a disgrace to the country.” He further added, “I will not put my signatures on a letter that talks about superstitious belief.”
He urged those who are raising questions over the central vista project to at least visit the parliament once and see how difficult it is to sit there due to lack of space. He said, “The parliament was designed for fewer people. We are making a bigger parliament building for the people of India.” He further said, “I think some of these guys need to have their head examined before they sign letters like this.”
Puri said they are saying that it was an open letter but I was never made aware of the letter before. It was only on May 31 when he came to know about the contents of the letter. However, it has been making rounds on social media. He further raised question over the alleged news portals that have popped up recently and said, “I do not know what agenda they have but they need to get their facts right.”
Later, he also shared a snippet of the so-called open letter sent by ex-civil servants.
Here are a few more gems from our 60 Vidvaans!— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) June 1, 2021
Once the Central Vista Avenue redevelopment is complete there will be even more space for recreation & for Mummy, Daddy & Pappu to have ice cream there. #OpenLetter pic.twitter.com/zANkCWU9kc
Referring to them as ‘vidvaans’ (intelligent, learned folks), he said that their contention that the new Central Vista will deprive people of the open space which works as an inexpensive place for recreation is misplaced. “Once the Central Vista Avenue redevelopment is complete there will be even more space for recreation & for Mummy, Daddy & Pappu to have ice cream there,” he said.
The problem of the false narrative
Union Minister Puri laid down a lot of facts during the press conference. He talked about the false narrative that is being created and propagated around the Central Vista project. He said that majority of those who are opposing the project are calling it a vanity project, insinuating that it is not needed. In reality, they do not even know the difference between Central Vista and Central Vista avenue.
He added that there are misconceptions that old heritage buildings will be demolished to raise new buildings. The narrative, he said, is completely false and the Government of India has repeatedly stated that none of the heritage buildings would be touched.
Only two projects are under construction
At present, only two projects are under construction. The first is the new parliament building and the second is Central Vista avenue. The aim is to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Independence in the new building in 2022. No other projects have yet commenced including the new official residence for the Prime Minister. The estimated cost of the new parliament building is Rs 852 crores and the estimated cost of Central Vista avenue is Rs 477 crore.
UPA-2 had conceptualized the new parliament
Puri added that in 2012, the UPA government had decided to build a new parliament. In the same year, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, then-Union Minister for Rural Development had said, “We badly need a new parliament building. This one simply isn’t functional and is outdated.” When BJP came to power, the project was not only discussed extensively with every stakeholder but every permission had been sought before the project was started on the ground.
The current problems with the Parliament building and government offices
The current parliament building is in a seismic zone 4, said the Union Minister. The existing building would be not able to tolerate strong tremors, making it dangerous. Also, when India got independence in 1947, the population was close to 350 million. At present, the population is around 1.35 billion. The current building is not sufficient for the ample representation of the public. Due to lack of space, delimitation is being postponed for decades. In 2026 delimitation would be done based on the 2021 census. The new parliament building is required so that additional MPs can be accommodated.
Puri further added that the government of India is currently spending Rs.1000 crores on rents on government offices which will be saved once the project is completed in the coming years. He said that the project will provide government offices for 51 ministries with proper urban connectivity. However, it has to noted that the construction work of all the other buildings that are part of this project is yet to be started. No tenders have been floated for the rest of the project including the residence of the Prime Minister of India. The main aim of the government is to get the parliament building ready so that it can be put in use for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Independence in August 2022.
Notably, the Delhi High Court had dismissed a PIL against the Central Vista project and called it a “motivated plea”. The court also imposed a fine on the petitioners Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi for wasting the court’s time in frivolous petitions.