Central Vista: The Essentiality of the Emperor’s Vanity Project during the Pandemic

The petitioners have sought to stop the construction of the project, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, citing the construction as a potential super spreader.

vista
PC: Mir Suhail Twitter

The Central government plans to redevelop the Central Vista avenue i.e. along the stretch of Rajpath in Delhi. The plan entails a new parliament house, a new residential complex housing the Prime Minister and the Vice President. New office buildings and a Central Secretariat will also be built, to house other ministry offices.

Since last year there have been several activists who have objected to the construction project owing to several environmental violations the project involved. The project is still ongoing even though Delhi is currently under lockdown, as it has ‘essential service’ status.

Last week, the Delhi High Court has agreed to hear a plea regarding the halting of construction of the central vista redevelopment project. The hearing will be tomorrow, May 11th. Initially the hearing was set to take place on May 17th, but petitioners urged the HC to prepone the hearing citing the matter as a ‘public health emergency’.

On May 7th, the petitioner approached Supreme Court which refused to interfere on the matter but granted the petitioner the liberty to approach the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court for an early hearing.

The petitioners have sought to stop the construction of the project, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, citing the construction as a potential super spreader. The petition stresses that they do not want to overreach the supreme court judgement on January 5th, which gave the green light to the project. The petition has more to do with temporarily halting the construction on account of the pandemic as opposed to shutting it down all together.

No Environmental Clearance

The project stretches form Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, extending also to the Yamuna Floodplains. The project was first announced in 2019, and since then it has overruled a number of environmental laws which regulate redevelopment programs of this scale. The project has been sliced into a number of sections, many of these sections, never having undergone any Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA). Only a cluster of the construction projects related the Central Secretariat and the PM residential building have had EIAs and have received clearance. The rest, for example the digging up of Rajpath, the underground metro, and the construction of the new parliament building are all being carried out without any environmental clearance.

Many parliamentarians, architects, and environmental activists have criticised the project since its inception, pointing out how the project is a “pointless extravagance and political symbol”. Rahul Gandhi mentioned how the project was a “criminal wastage” in a tweet criticising the project being carried out during the pandemic. Criticism has recently sprung up on social media, after images of the dug up Central Vista surfaced online. In addition to this there has been outrage over the reports mentioning the uprooting of Jamun trees due to the project.

Another Vanity Project For Narendra Modi?

The project is said to be ready in time for the Republic Day parade in 2022. It is clear that the project It is yet another attempt at establishing a legacy by BJP. Another example of this is the construction of the Sardar Vallbhai Patel statue in Vadodra, Gujarat. Even attempts at changing the names of cities and roads (the example of Allahabad and Faizabad) come under this aim of making a sizable stamp, establishing a legacy that breaks records owing to sheer scale.

These projects act as political symbols which aim to physically consolidate the image of a powerful and influential party at the top. At a time when the central government has withdrawn itself and left people to scramble for medical supplies, oxygen cylinders, remdesivir in private or unofficial markets, it is horrifying to see the public expenditure going into projects like these. The total cost for the project currently stands at 20,000 crore. Many have pointed out how the investment into the Central vista project could have easily built around thousand’s of oxygen generation plants. Currently the cost of the 162 oxygen generating plants, run by the government is Rs. 200 Crores.

Continuing with the project, now named as an ‘essential service’, while the rest of Delhi is in lockdown, also shows the sheer lack of consideration for construction workers on the part of the government. Ultimately it is the workers who are pushed to expose themselves to the virus so as to carry on the ruling party’s image campaign at such a time. Many of the construction workers on speaking to Scroll.in, mentioned fear of contracting the virus and the desire to leave the worksite. However, many couldn’t do so as they had not received their wages.

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June 2024
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