Government responds to Newslaundry article on Central Vista

The response by the housing and urban affairs ministry is to Alpana Kishore’s piece titled ‘Central Vista is an illegitimate monument to deceit’. We are carrying the response in full.

ByNL Team
Government responds to Newslaundry article on Central Vista
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Ms. Alpana Kishore has written an article on 13 May, 2021 in the web portal newslaundry.com on the central vista project. It seems the writer does not have proper understanding of facts connected with the subject; it has, therefore, led to several misrepresentations in the article.

Hence, in order to present the facts in proper perspective, all the issues of concern, which have been flagged in the article, have been clarified and collated at one place; and is attached herewith for wider readership.

– Team MoHUA

Central Vista: A Project of Necessity

India is recognized as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic, committed efforts are being made towards making India AatmaNirbhar. One of the core principles of the envisaged AtmaNirbhar Bharat is to ensure readiness of the country in terms of progressive infrastructure and public facilities. Towards this pursuit, the Central Vista Development/Redevelopment Project is essential to realise the vision of self-reliance, while laying the foundation of the future ready infrastructure.

2. When designing the Central Vista, Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker were inspired by Washington's Capitol Complex and Paris' Champs Elysees. They meant the Central Vista to be the 'living center of administration in India', house all facilities needed for efficient functioning of Government, and be an architectural icon for the Government of India. Despite contrary notion, the need for redevelopment of Central Vista has been felt for a long time due to the degrading of its facilities. Over the years, many people and institutions have demanded that the Central Vista should be better administered, better developed and better maintained, and that its heritage should be protected. Most of the buildings in the Central Vista area are more than 50-60 years old, having approached the near end of their serviceable lives. Buildings constructed over 100 years ago such as North and South Blocks need renovation and retrofitting as New Delhi has been reclassified to highly sensitive Seismic Zone IV. There is a shortage of office spaces, parking, amenities and services in these buildings. Recurring costs of modernization and retrofitting/refurbishing the existing spaces and their infrastructure is a constant burden on the exchequer. Further, only 39 out of 51 Ministries of the Central Government are fully/partially housed in the Central Vista and various Ministries and Departments of the Central Government have had to rent office spaces outside the Central Vista area in Delhi, which is a significantly high and recurring annual expense of around ₹ 1,000 crore. Around 7,000 employees from Defence services, sit in hutments in Central Delhi spread over 90 acres, which were temporary structures meant as stables and barracks created during World War 2.

3. The Objectives of Central Vista Development/Redevelopment Master Plan include upgrading Parliament's space and facilities, consolidating, rationalizing and synergizing government functioning, refurbishing and better equipping the Central Vista Avenue, strengthening cultural institutions in the Central Vista, providing adequate facilities for the Vice President and the Prime Minister, commemorating 75 years of India's independence and above all showcasing strength and resolve of New India after Independence to execute an historic national project in 6 years. In this endeavor, the Guiding Principles of the Centra Vista Plan include conservation of Heritage, expanding public space, ensuring Transit Oriented Development, construction of accessible, energy efficient and green buildings with state-of-art construction technology and efficient management practices, thereby create inspiring work spaces with modern technology & facilities.

4. As on date, two projects viz. New Parliament Building and Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment have been grounded and the works are in progress. The new Parliament building is being built as the first purpose-designed Parliament building for independent India, so that the Winter Session in 2022 will be held in new Parliament building to celebrate 75 years of India's independence. The architectural strategy is to harmonize the two buildings such that they work in conjunction as 'Legislative Enclave'. It will make governance highly efficient with the most advanced and secure infrastructure available. The new complex will stand as a symbol of national identity for the country, serving as a mark of the nation's pride and prowess. It will be equipped with state-of-the-art infrastructure, allowing it to operate safely, smoothly and effectively. The new building will house larger Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Halls, with capacities of 888 seats and 384 seats respectively, to accommodate an expanded Parliament after the freeze on its expansion lifts in 2026. The Lok Sabha Hall will also have additional capacity, up to 1272 seats, to host joint sessions of the Parliament. The new Parliament building's architecture and aesthetics will take reference from the present Parliament building, other buildings of the Central Vista, and the classical, folk and tribal arts and crafts of India.

5. The Central Vista Avenue, which extends from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate, is one of the most visited tourist places in Delhi. It is used for Republic Day parade of our nation and various other functions which showcase the nation's Capital to the world. However, it lacks basic public facilities, amenities, vending facility, parking and is currently under stressed conditions. Hence, the Central Vista Avenue is being refurbished, its infrastructure upgraded, and new social amenities will be provided, while retaining its essential character, to make it more comfortable to use and of a befitting quality, with adequate infrastructure for national events.

6. Public apprehensions have been stated around the relevant Central Vista redevelopment project 'approvals' and 'legal' documentation, with allegations made around subversion of Indian urban regulatory framework. While there have been suggestions that approvals for the project were undertaken in extraordinary haste since 2019, contradiction can be clearly observed in the farfetched nature of allegations suggesting that any changes were made in urban law or rules for the entire nation from 2016, keeping the Central Vista project in mind. It has been suggested that NDMC’s role as local body to approve the building plan was deliberately eliminated and role was assigned to CPWD, based on the pre-colonial “The Government Buildings Act, 1899". Such assertions are akin to casting vilifications on police for arresting an accused, based on Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code because they emerged from the colonial era. The said exemption in the law is applicable for all Government buildings and this position has been accepted by DUAC, HCC, NDMC, DDA and other local bodies throughout the country, not just in Delhi.

7. There have been suggestions that the elected local body of NDMC was bypassed by CPWD, during the approval stage. However, NDMC is not an elected local body but a nominated body. CPWD has qualified architects and approval of building plan is accorded by designated Chief Architect, who is similar in qualification to Chief Architect, NDMC. Further, Chief Architect, NDMC is member of all important bodies i.e. Central Vista Committee, Heritage Conservation Committee and he is actively involved in approval of plans by these bodies. There is Committee of Architects, Engineers and Horticulturists, who examined the proposal and that the final proposal was submitted is fully complaint with the Building Byelaws in terms of FAR, ground coverage, setbacks, specific area norms. Further, Chief Architect, Delhi Region who functions as local body is not associated with preparation of building plans for Central Vista and works independently.

8. There has been apprehension with respect to land use of public spaces, as a result of the project. As a matter of fact, about 5.64 acres of land has been added in green area and shall be available for public use after affecting land use changes. Despite contrary belief, the 9.5-acre land for which the land use was changed from ‘District Park' to Government use for Parliament Building was already notified. The space was already used as parking space and housed utilities for existing Parliament Building such as cooling plant, electric sub-station, cafeteria and barracks for security personnel and it had never been functional as a ‘District Park' since 1970s. Further, through redevelopment of existing Central Secretariat buildings, around 2 hectares of green public spaces will be accessible to all citizens at the heart of New Delhi. Eventually, the historic North and South Block complex will be converted into National Museum and will be open to public, thereby increasing publicly accessible space in the Central Vista. Further, for all the land use changes, due process of inviting objections from public was followed. Large number of objections were received and opportunity for personal hearing was given to persons filing objections in a democratic manner by the Board of Enquiry (BoE), constituted by DDA.

9. Environmental sustainability is at the core of the Central Vista Master Plan, with a comprehensive plan to leverage centralised systems and infrastructure, promote the use of public transport and have upgraded technology, systems and services to ensure environmental sustainability. Media articles have alleged that the environmental clearances were obtained in a haphazard and disjointed manner. However, integration of stringent safeguards was ensured during the approval process. The revised application for environmental clearance of construction of Common Central Secretariat buildings made on 11th December, 2020 had included all the other building components including new Parliament for assessing the impact on environment due to this project. Detailed Environment Impact Assessment has been carried out for all the 10 Buildings of Common Central Secretariat (CCS), Common Conferencing facility, residences/offices of Vice President and Prime Minister. The impact of already approved New Parliament Building as well as proposed Executive Enclave buildings (whose planning is under way) were also taken into account. This Environment Assessment Report has been submitted to Expert Appraisal Committee of Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India which is in the public domain. The Expert Appraisal Committee which is an independent body of field experts examined the report and recommended for justified clearance on 2nd May, 2021. The methodological processes followed for the relevant approvals further re-enforce the unsubstantiated nature of the apprehensions or allegations, being stated around the Central Vista project.

10. There has been concerns on the online system of approvals OPAAS, adopted by DUAC, with suggestions around dilution of the scrutiny process. However, the online system adopted by DUAC and HCC has enhanced transparency and accountability of project stakeholders. The online medium has ensured that all the project drawings are uploaded on the system in a consolidated manner and that the proposals are scrutinised in time bound manner. The observations provided against the project documents are conveyed in a fully transparent manner, with the files available in public domain. Hard copies of drawings are invariably submitted by all project proponents and these are also available in record along with soft copies submitted online. It has also been insinuated that the project was broken up in various micro projects to get approvals. However, due approvals from Chief Architect, CPWD (functioning as local body), DUAC, CVC, HCC, AAI, Delhi Fire Services etc is required to be taken for specific buildings based on detailed plans in case of every project, never for the entire Master Plan.

11. All such issues had also been raised before the Honorable Supreme Court and they had been argued threadbare by both petitioners and respondents. After hearing both the sides in a series of hearings which went on for around a month, the Honorable Supreme Court passed a majority judgement, spanning, which upheld the processes undertaken and permissions received by the project proponent. Post Supreme Court judgement, another PIL was filed to stall work at the construction site of the Central Vista Avenue redevelopment, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. As a response to the appeal, the Hon'ble Delhi High Court imposed an exemplary fine of Rs 11 lakh on them since the application had not been filed in 'public interest', stating the 'motivated' nature of the allegations.

12. Stringent measures have been undertaken on the sites of new Parliament Building and Central Vista Avenue redevelopment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. All the workers on the project sites comply with COVID-19 protocols, including sanitization, thermal screening, physical/social distancing and masking and have been provided on-site accommodation. It has been ensured that the workers have minimal interaction with the general public, with workers operating in cohorts. Therefore, there seems minimal chance of the project activities becoming potential COVID-19 spreader activities.

13. Emphasis needs to be laid upon the cascading effects of undertaking such large-scale public intervention as Transformation of Central Vista. The two projects have provided direct livelihood opportunities to more than 10,000 skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers on site and off site. In addition, it will lead to substantial employment in manufacturing and transportation of cement, steel and other building materials. In sum, the sheer magnitude of the construction and services will contribute economic revitalization across the entire construction value chain and contribute towards our resolve for AatmaNirbhar Bharat.

14. Despite the nature of criticism being hurled, the Central Vista Development/ Redevelopment Master Plan is poised to be the centre piece of modern Indian infrastructure and architecture, upon its full realisation. The refurbished Central Vista will stand out as an institution built by the people, of the people and for the people of the nation, strengthening New India as the country nears 75th Anniversary of its independence.

Also Read : Central Vista is an illegitimate monument to deceit
Also Read : Bit by bit, trick by trick: How Central Vista became a reality
Also Read : Central Vista: Why Modi’s New New Delhi isn't a shining city
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