The power centre of the Indian capital has got a major and much needed makeover and is all set to open its doors to the world this week with the inauguration of the Central Vista by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the heart of this gigantic project is the new Parliament building, which will be open for business before the end of this year. As the Prime Minister has said, “If the old Parliament House gave direction to post-Independence India, the new building would become a witness to the creation of Aatmanirbhar Bharat.” In fact, the indigenously designed new Parliament building and the whole Central Vista project as a whole are a testament to India’s growing heft internationally as a self-confident country, which is marching ahead towards greater glory. The project also marks the rise of a new India moving ahead by freeing itself from its colonial past. In fact, it is poetic justice that just when India is getting ready to unveil this indigenous Central Vista, it would race ahead of its former colonial masters and occupiers, the United Kingdom, by becoming the world’s fifth largest economy. India would have achieved this milestone much earlier, but for the dual effects of the Covid pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war that have left the world reeling. It is immensely significant that while the rest of the world, including the West, is sinking into an economic morass and staring at a recession, India, by dint of its sensible policies, is bouncing back to economic health, proving innumerable naysayers wrong. It is no mean feat for a country to rise from 11th to 5th position in terms of GDP in just about a decade, the way India has done. Now it is on course to become the third largest economy in the world behind just the United States and China, inside the next few years.
Of immense importance also is the functional aspect of the project. As the government says, the focus is on improving “the productivity and efficiency of administration by providing it with highly functional and purpose-designed office infrastructure”. Towards this end, 51 Central government ministries have been brought together in 10 Common Central Secretariat buildings, for the “easy movement of personnel, documents and goods”, which, in turn, is expected to increase administrative efficiency and productivity. The modern workspaces being created are expected to be far more modern and advanced than the old buildings from where many government offices function at present. Apparently, the focus will also be on green buildings and clean transportation. This is commendable and will be a case of the government leading by example at a time when India is setting the climate agenda for the world by fulfilling the climate goals it has set or itself, in spite of the difficulties involved in weaning itself away from fossil fuel.
The public spaces, which the country will get a glimpse of once the redeveloped Central Vista is inaugurated, should be a marvel to behold if the photographs available until now are anything to go by, especially with the conversion of the current North and South Blocks into the National Museum complex. The India Gate plaza and the surrounding areas, which will also see the inauguration of a Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose statue this week, have been redeveloped. The area gets a lot of tourist footfall and is well known for social gatherings. Keeping this on mind, dedicated spaces are being set up for leisure and recreation. One aspect needs to be highlighted here, which is public behaviour. Knowing the enthusiasm of Indians, who are not always very civic minded, it will be a task to maintain these public spaces in mint condition. So enough provisions have to be made to keep this place garbage free and the lawns green so that the Central Vista is comparable to any similar vista in the developed world.
Lastly, a few words about the new Parliament building. A lot of unnecessary criticism has been directed at the project, with many critics opposed to the idea of the Upper and Lower Houses shifting out of the current building. What they forget is that the new Parliament building has been designed according to the needs of a country with a growing population. For better governance, the country needs many more Parliamentary seats than the current 543. With delimitation set to take place in 2026, the number of seats will go up and accordingly the seating capacity in the Lower House has been increased to 770, as well as that of the Rajya Sabha to 384. Joint sessions of Parliament will also be able to seat 1,134 members. Moreover, it can be challenging to technologically modernize the current Parliament building, which is nearly a century old. Most importantly, why hold on to the relic of a colonial past at a time when a sovereign and confident nation is making its mark internationally? If the seat of a Parliament represents the heart of a democracy, that heart must reflect that democracy’s intrinsic strengths, its values and its ancient history, instead of being tethered to a colonial past.