The much talked about Central Vista Redevelopment Project is not being built by compromising on healthcare spending or environmental clearances. Importantly, it is required to not only replace a rickety 94-year-old relic of the colonial past, but also to house the much greater number of parliamentarians after 2026 and bring together more than 75,000 government employees, thus increasing work synergies and strengthening security.

The Central Vista Project (CVP) has been in the news of late, with an electorally vanquished Congress Party trying desperately to politicise the issue. Be that as it may, on May 17, 2021, the Centre, via its Solicitor General (SG), said in the Delhi High Court that the PIL filed by a few seeking a stay on CVP is a façade created to stop the project from moving ahead under one pretext or the other. The SG said that public interest is very selective in this particular case. Petitioners via a PIL, seeking to delay/derail CVP, don’t care about workmen or their health. They don’t care about what happens to the citizens of Delhi through the other projects that have been going on in any case. The SG also took exception to the use of the word “Auschwitz” to compare the accommodation arrangements made for the workers with concentration camps. “An expression ‘Auschwitz’ was used during submissions which means concentration camps in Germany. How can he say that?”, the SG asked, rebutting the use of this term by the petitioners who are currently challenging the ongoing construction of CVP. While the Division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh of the Delhi High Court have reserved their judgement on the Central Vista Project, the court proceedings on May 17 clearly highlighted how CVP is being deliberately maligned and an attempt is being made by people with vested interests to stop the project.

A few weeks back, the Centre had, challenging a petition/PIL against the CVP, said in a written reply to the Delhi HC that 400 workers for the redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue had been engaged well before the imposition of curfew in Delhi and the workers are staying at the site in a safe, Covid-compliant facility. The Centre also argued that not only has CVP been classified as an “essential service”, but according to Para 8 of the Delhi Disaster Management Act of 2005, construction activities during curfew or lockdown are permitted where labourers are residing on-site. Earlier, in January 2021, the Supreme Court had, in fact, rejected a petition asking for an interim stay on the CVP, thereby allowing the project to go ahead and vindicating the ongoing construction. The Supreme Court’s verdict, which gave the green signal to the Central Government’s Central Vista revamp project in New Delhi, that includes, among other things, a new Parliament building, holding there was ‘no infirmity’ in the grant of environment clearance and permissions for change of land use, was a huge endorsement of the project in more ways than one.

The Congress has been raising a hue and cry about this project of late. Interestingly, Jairam Ramesh himself had in 2012 advocated the construction of a new Parliament building. Way back in 2012, when his party was in power, Jairam Ramesh had said, “We badly need a new Parliament building. This one simply isn’t functional and is outdated.” The hypocrisy of the Congress is borne out by the fact that the then Speaker’s (Meira Kumar) office had communicated to the Secretary-Urban Development on 13 July 2012, highlighting the inadequacies of the existing Parliament building and an urgent need for the construction of a new one. Congress was in power then. Sadly, a few Congressmen feign collective amnesia today. How ironic that a project that was supported by the Congress regime in 2012 is being denounced for no good reason in 2021? Chintamani Panigrahi, who served as Minister of State in Ministries of Home Affairs and Defence from 1986 to 1989, when Rajiv Gandhi was the PM, had, in fact, appealed fervently for a new Parliament building way back in 1986, 35 years ago. Hence, for the Congress to now do a volte-face and indulge in petty politicking is absolutely unacceptable.

Delhi is on course to becoming a world-class capital city and, in a historic step, by the time the nation completes 75 years of its Independence in 2022, a new Parliament building would be ready, reflecting the aspirations of new India. Hence, this disingenuous attempt by the Congress to derail the CVP is in poor taste. The ambitious redevelopment project of the Central Vista — the nation’s power corridor — envisages a new triangular Parliament building, a common Central Secretariat and revamping of the 3 km-long Rajpath, from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate. A three-judge bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar and comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, in the majority verdict in January 2021, held that the grant of environmental clearance and the notification for change in land use for construction of the new Parliament building under the project was valid.

What is absolutely surprising is that the Opposition, which has been targeting the Modi government on the Central Vista Project (CVP), has no issues whatsoever with several other agencies such as CPWD, NBCC, DMRC, PWD, IICC and DDA, which are also engaged in carrying out construction activities across Delhi. In fact, CVP is like the multiple other infrastructure projects currently underway across the length and breadth of India.

Keeping the politics aside, what exactly is the CVP all about? Existing buildings of 42.6 lakh square feet, some of which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, are being demolished. Several new buildings totalling 1.89 crore square feet will be built. The CVP is budgeted at over Rs 13,450 crore, and will have a new 6.94 lakh square feet Parliament House, 36% bigger than the existing 94-year-old building. The new building with greater seating capacities for over 888 MPs in the Lok Sabha, as compared to the 543 now and, and 384 MPs in Rajya Sabha, versus the 245 currently, that is being built, will replace the existing creaky, run-down structure.

Why is it imperative for the Parliament to move into a new building? Well, to answer that, one must know some facts about the existing building. The current building is a massive circular edifice, 560 feet (170.69 meters) in diameter. Its circumference is one-third of a mile (536.33 meters) and it covers an area of nearly six acres (24281.16 square metres). The open verandah on the first floor is fringed with a colonnade of 144 creamy sandstone columns—each 27 feet (8.23 metres) high. The building has twelve gates, among which Gate No. 1 on the Sansad Marg is the main gate. According to the Parliament’s website, “The foundation stone of parliament house was laid on 12th February, 1921 by HRH The Duke of Connaught. The construction of the building took six years and the opening ceremony was performed on the 18th January, 1927 by the then Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin. The cost of construction was Rs 83 lakh. Parliament House, originally known as the House of Parliament, was designed by British architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker around 1912-13.”

Is building a new Parliament House wasteful expenditure? Certainly not. CVP is not being built at the expense of India’s fight against Covid. India’s annual healthcare budget is over Rs 2.3 lakh crore, with over Rs 35,000 crore separately allocated for the fight against Covid. Last year Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in any case, decided to infuse Rs 30 lakh crore, akin to 15% of India’s GDP, into the economy, largely to help the weaker and marginalised sections of the society.

Post 2026, the strength of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are slated to rise substantially to reflect India’s rising population. For instance, the number of Lok Sabha seats rose post delimitation to 494 in 1952, based on the 1951 census, 522 in 1963, based on the 1961 census, and 543 in 1973, based on the 1971 census. Since 1973, however, no delimitation exercise happened, though it was mandated under the Constitution to happen every ten years. The next delimitation exercise, based on the 2021 census, is scheduled for 2026, as per a 2002 Constitutional Amendment. If CVP is stalled now, how will we accommodate a higher number of parliamentarians in the future?

Not only inadequate seating capacity, but the current Parliament building adheres to only Seismic Zone 3 requirements. Delhi falls under Seismic Zone 4. The new Parliament building will not only be more earthquake-resistant, but will also comply with the more stringent Seismic Zone 5 requirements. The new premises, once ready, will have a seating capacity of over 1272 MPs for a joint sitting, if needed, of both the houses.

The bare standalone cost of the new Parliament building is Rs 862 crore. India’s debilitated Opposition has been screaming hoarse about CVP, but why is there not even a squeak about the Rs 900 crore that the Congress-centric MVA alliance is spending on a new MLA complex at Nariman Point in Mumbai? Why is there no outrage by “compulsive liar” Rahul Gandhi about the Rs 270 crore being spent by the inept Congress government in Chhattisgarh on a new MLA hostel? The current Parliament building is weathered down, structurally weak, and needs humongous repairs. So why the big noise, if a new building is being built? A Central Vista Avenue is also being built at an all-inclusive cost of Rs 477 crore. Both these projects are being built by Tata Projects and Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry belonging to the minority Parsi community. So even the otherwise vicious and vacuous narrative by the Opposition that the Modi government favours the “Ambani-Adani” duo, which is in any case a lot of hogwash, falls flat on its face.

India’s Leftist cabal has been misreporting that PM Modi is building a “grand palace” for himself, which is completely false. This cabal has however been absolutely quiet about the obnoxious Rs 822 crore annual budget on flimsy advertisements by the Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi. Rs 822 crore can vaccinate one crore Delhiites for free! Those who have the audacity to question Modi is that very bunch which till date has never asked why Sonia Gandhi is residing in a 1.64 lakh-square-feet government-owned house, larger than the 1.52 lakh-square-feet residence of PM Modi, who lives at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg? Rahul Gandhi, under whom the Congress has lost close to 45 small and big elections, too lives in a palatial 54,085 square-feet, government-owned house. PM Modi, the most popular and powerful leader in post-Independence India, has always been a man of frugal means, impeccable integrity and simple living. Equally, by virtue of manning the highest elected office of one of the largest democracies in the world, he is entitled to some privileges, just like his predecessors were.

Coming back to the project components, reputed, best-selling novelist Amit Bagaria has explained this very nicely in a recent post. “The CVP will have a Defence Enclave comprising three buildings, with offices of the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff and the three service chiefs, with special security arrangements. There will be six other buildings to house all the other ministries and departments (apart from defence) of the GOI and their subordinate organisations. All nine buildings have been labelled as the Central Secretariat in the 2027 Master Plan image. The Conference Centre will be the largest government conference facility in the world. There will be total office space for 52,300 people, and parking for almost 10,000 vehicles in basements. There will be no surface parking. An underground Metro will connect the whole Central Vista.” A 75-acre National Biodiversity Arboretum has been planned behind Rashtrapati Bhavan, which will have collections of plants from different climatic zones. There will be underground walkways to connect most buildings, reducing the carbon footprint.

“South Block, which houses the PMO, the cabinet secretariat, the defence and foreign ministries and the Office of the NSA, will be converted to a National Museum with the theme ‘India up to 1857’. North Block, which houses the home and finance Ministries, will be converted to a National Museum with the theme ‘India since 1857’,” says Bagaria.

To cut to the chase, the Central Vista Project will not only replace a 94-year-old, jaded relic of the colonial era, but will also free up about 75 acres for public use. More than 75,000 government employees will be within walking distance of each other, resulting in not only higher fuel savings, but, more importantly, greater work synergies too, besides, of course, strengthening the overall safety and security considerations of our parliamentarians. As for Modi naysayers alleging that enough is not being done about health infrastructure, let the truth be told. The Congress regime under Manmohan Singh built just one AIIMS in 10 years, between 2004 and 2014, whereas in merely the last 7 years, the Narendra Modi government has built a record 15 AIIMS between 2014 and 2021. The number of medical seats in 2014 in India stood at 52,000. That number, in the last seven years, under the astute leadership of PM Modi, has risen by 70%, to 88,250 seats. As for CVP, well, at this stage, it is a necessity, not a luxury.

In the final analysis, the Indian Parliament’s new building will have a triangular shape to reflect the importance of triangles being a sacred geometric form in various religions, while its interiors will have three national symbols as their main themes, the lotus, the peacock and the banyan tree. Besides age, the fundamental case for a new Parliament building arises from the fact that the number of seats in the Lok Sabha will go up significantly after 2026. This is in accordance with the “provisions of the explanation to clause (3) Article 81 of the Constitution”. The clause “determines representation on the basis of population determined by the last census”, which in this case will be the 2021 census. Hence, a larger structure is a must. The hard truth is that the Central Vista project was endorsed by the Congress not just in 2012, but decades back in 1986. However, given the natural affliction of the Congress for criminal apathy and procrastination, this project never saw the light of day. Thanks to the Narendra Modi government and its unflinching courage of conviction, this project is finally on track to ensure, among other things, that the last vestiges of colonial legacy are finally eradicated for good.

The author is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of “Truth & Dare — The Modi Dynamic”.