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Amid Accusations of Secrecy, PM Modi to Lay Foundation of New Parliament Building

'The Wire' speaks to a citizens’ collective member who has questioned the opacity and necessity behind the project.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will, on December 10, lay the foundation stone of the new parliament building in New Delhi, adjacent to the existing one, marking an important landmark in his controversial plan to redevelop the entire Central Vista area.

The move comes at a time when several environmentalists, conservationists and architects have raised questions around the necessity of the new structures and the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to stop all construction and ancillary activities in the historically significant zone.

As the apex court allowed the government to go ahead with the foundation stone laying ceremony, a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said “the new building is an intrinsic part of the vision of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and will be a landmark opportunity to build peoples’ Parliament for the first time after independence, one which will match the needs and aspirations of ‘New India’ in the 75th anniversary of independence in 2022.”

The PMO added that “the New Parliament Building will be modern, state-of-the-art and energy efficient, with highly non-obtrusive security facilities to be built as a triangular shaped building, adjacent to the present Parliament.”

Stating that the structure would have greater sitting capacity, it said, “Lok Sabha will be three times of the existing size and Rajya Sabha will be substantially bigger. The interiors of the new building will showcase a rich blend of Indian culture and diversity of our regional arts, crafts, textiles and architecture. The design plan includes space for a magnificent Central Constitutional Gallery, which will be accessible to the public.”

A model of the proposed new Parliament building, in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

The statement further said “the construction of New Parliament Building will utilize resource efficient green technology, promote environment friendly practices, generate employment opportunities and contribute towards economic revitalization. It will have high quality acoustics and audio-visual facilities, improved and comfortable seating arrangements, effective and inclusive emergency evacuation provisions. The building will comply with the highest structural safety standards, including adherence to Seismic Zone 5 requirements and is designed for ease of maintenance and operations.”

‘Secretive’

However, LokPATH, a collective of noted citizens, including architects, urban planners, historians and politicians, had repeatedly pointed out how the idea of redevelopment of the Central Vista was pushed in an atmosphere of secrecy and opacity for political ends and that it sought to alter the landscape of the area and deprive citizens of open public spaces.

The Central Vista project includes construction of a new Parliament building, with the existing building converted into a museum. Five big office buildings each would come up on both sides of Rajpath, while the National Museum and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts buildings would be pulled down to make way for the new buildings.

Also read: Behind Modi’s Plans to Redevelop the Central Vista is a Covert Political Agenda

The museum would be shifted to the North and South Block. The residences of the vice-president and the prime minister are also supposed to move to either side of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and a separate Prime Minister’s Office building has been proposed to the south of Rajpath.

Earlier this year, in an interview to The Wire, its member, Madhav Raman of Anagram Architects, spoke at length about why the group was resisting the project on several counts.

Here are some of the excerpts from the interview:

A major element of the Central Vista Redevelopment project is the new parliament building adjacent to the existing one. It would be a triangular structure that would come up in the district park which is situated right next to the parliament. The government’s argument is that they need more space. Our population has gone up and so sometime in the future we may even have more members of parliament. To seat them and to have their offices they need a bigger space, the government says.

Also, the government says the existing building is not safe enough because of seismic reasons and it is not big enough to house all of them. How do you see this entire change which is being brought in.

Madhav Raman: I think there have been a fair bit of fallacious arguments that have been advanced by the Central Public Works Department in this project. To begin with, this question of MPs reminds me of the five blind men who feel different parts of an elephant…You expect an arm of the government to act with certain responsibility.

One thing they are saying is that North Block and South Block are seismically unsafe. That’s there in the bid. Then even parliament is unsafe. So is your first move going to be to try and study the problem and sort that out before proposing a new building? Because an earthquake can happen at any time. Instead of energising yourself to build a new parliament, you should focus on that.

Next comes this speculative demand that we will have in the range of 900-1000 Lok Sabha MPs given the delimitation which is coming. Given the history of delimitation in this country, it is not an easy political exercise. We are a federal country, every state has been allotted a certain number of seats with a certain logic. The idea is to balance the federal power which each state asserts within the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.

It is not an exercise for either the CPWD or the winning bidder to take upon themselves to calculate how many MPs will be there. It requires a delimitation commission to sit and it is slated to sit in 2031. Any call on this, in terms of expansion, is pure speculation before that happens.

Sanitisation work underway before commencement of the first day of parliament’s monsoon session in New Delhi, September 14, 2020. Photo: PTI/Kamal Singh

If you look at the halls of Parliament and architecturally analyse it, there is plenty of space. We ourselves have analysed the capacities of these buildings and halls. With a little bit of rearrangement of furniture in Lok Sabha (which can have a maximum of 552 MPs) you can seat upwards of 690 MPs there. To my mind the delimitation exercise will not yield more MPs than this. Even if it does, you also have the visitors galleries available to you. It depends on your perspective and motivation to keep the parliament as part of our living heritage or are you more interested in mummifying that heritage in order to build a grand new building.

Do we as a nation want to be legislating, evolving the constitution in the place of its birth or you want to freeze that moment in time and create a new space for new legislations and powers.

In other countries, they keep renovating their historic buildings. Why is that not happening here?

This project is urban design trying to replace furniture design. If there is an earthquake problem, then stabilise the structure; if there is an infrastructure problem caused by 72 years of negligence by CPWD, then instead of rewarding them with a new project, we should force them to look after the thing and prolong its life.

The parliament can hold an enhanced capacity till the time of delimitation, it only requires a little bit of application of mind.

The essence of the Lutyen’s plan in the area is that the domes stick out from the buildings above the treeline. But with the new Parliament building exceeding the height of the old building by a good 20 feet, that essence would be disturbed. Would you create a new structure that dominates the earlier structure, give an impression that the existing parliament is from the past and this is what would now represent the new India?

I personally feel that every country in the world tries to prolong the life of its legislative chamber and here, based on hearsay and speculation, they plan to abandon it.

Also, here they have applied for environmental clearance for cutting 192 trees out of the 350 that are sitting in the plot…

Parliament House. Photo: Reuters

Do you thing the Modi government wants to leave a legacy behind through this project? Union Minister Hardeep Puri has in the past described this as the Prime Minister’s dream project.

The problem is not political motivation because governments keep changing, every government comes with its idea of what to do. When Rajiv Gandhi was in power in 1988 he wanted to build the Prime Minister’s house here (near Sena Bhawan). But then they decided against that.

It is for the bureaucratic arm of the government to take charge of the fiduciary responsibility – things that would last more than five years of government. It is also for them to advise the political arm as to how to maintain that continuity.

SSome people say the committee responsible for protecting the area did not play their role. Do you agree?

Bodies like DUAC and HCC were all envisaged as independent bodies but a look at their membership reveals that they are all comprising bureaucrats of one kind or the other – if they are architects, they are chief architects from states. For example, the Central Vista Group is chaired by the ADG (Projects) of CPWD and its secretary is the Chief Architect of CPWD. Considering they are the promoters of this redevelopment, there exists a plain conflict of interest.

DUAC sits in judgment for any major change in Delhi – in terms of aesthetics, traffic, history and cultural legacy – and they are the final arbiter. But now the chairman of DUAC is also the chairman of Evaluation Committee which procured this winning bidder.

So, what is coming across from this project is immaturity and arbitrariness and all of this, in the conception stage itself.