The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change last week gave environmental clearance to the construction of a new additional Parliament building, a part of the Government’s controversial and ambitious Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista project. The Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry cleared the project on April 22 and it has, so far, received 1,292 objections.
The matter listed as the ‘Expansion and Renovation of existing Parliament Building at Parliament Street’ proposes a new building on plot 118 with a built up area of 65,000 square meters, adjacent to the existing building. The new 42-meter tall building will have a basement and three floors. The CPWD has said that there is no proposal for demolition of the existing Parliament building, but instead for “structural strengthening and renovation of interiors and utilities’’. An old building within the Parliament complex covering 5,200 square meters will, however, be demolished.
The “Observations’’, that is objections as has been listed by the EAC say,“ The EAC is considering this project when the entire country is under a lockdown and dealing with a health emergency. During a pandemic, we need to prioritise government spending for medical facilities and public health infrastructure. It is extremely unfortunate that the proposal for constructing a new Parliament continues to be treated as a priority and listed for environmental approval, even when the entire country is struggling with a health emergency and economic crisis.’’
“The existing Parliament Building was constructed 93 years ago. Over the years many planned / unplanned changes have been made, often undocumented. It is in dire need of retrofitting as soon as possible. This can only be done once the building is in vacant position and that will happen once the new building is made available. Therefore, development of the proposed Parliament Building is of utmost importance,’’says the CPWD in response to the concern.
The CPWD has further said that a larger parliament building is needed for “better functioning of the legislature’’, the project will provide short term as well as long term employment opportunities and that it will also make a positive contribution to “social infrastructure and overall development of the region’’.
The objections have further pointed out the singular heritage value of the Central Vista and the Indian Parliament, to which the CPWD has said,“ The project proponents are aware of the heritage value of the Parliament Building. It is precisely because of the need to protect its heritage value, besides other practical aspects such as seating more members for the future and providing them with necessary infrastructure, that the project has been conceived. Once the Parliament expansion is carried out as proposed, the proposed project aims to undertake necessary structural and other activities required to sustain the existing Parliament Building for use by future generations of Indians.’’
The CPWD has further clarified that the Supreme Court, in which a matter regarding the change of land use for the project is still pending, has till date not granted a stay on the activity concerning the proposed Parliament building. “ There is currently no stay on the project or for securing EC thereof. Accordingly, the question of setting aside the EC process owing to ongoing litigation on land use change for the project is incorrect and absurd,’’the CPWD has said.
However, the objections received by the Ministry have said that by rushing through a decision on this project the EAC will knowingly create a “fait accompli’’ situation and risk imposing costs on the government exchequer when the outcome of the litigation is still pending. The cost of the project has already increased to Rs 922 crores from Rs 766 crores between February 2020 and now.
Objections have further accused the CPWD of misleading the EAC by submitting a proposal for “expansion of the Parliament building’’ whereas the construction of a new building is proposed, and that the submission is of an individual stand alone project and the agency has not actually clarified that it is a part of a larger project for the Central Vista.
The construction of a new Parliament is a part of the larger revamp of the entire 3-km Central Vista from Rashtrapati Bhavan till India Gate, proposed by the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry and its construction agency, the CPWD. The plan includes constructing a new triangular Parliament opposite the existing heritage structure and building a central secretariat for all Ministries.
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