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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Let’s not politicise the Central Vista project

Vijay Darda writes: It’s carrying out much-needed improvements, with an eye on the future.

Written by Vijay Darda |
Updated: July 7, 2021 5:02:50 pm
Construction activities of Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project in progress. (Express Photo: Amit Mehra)

If the Opposition just keeps trying to prove Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrong on everything, it will only weaken its own existence. The voice of the Opposition will carry weight only if its criticism or protest is constructive. Today, some people are protesting against the Central Vista project, but they should understand that the initiative to build a new Parliament building was taken by the then Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar during the Congress-led government in 2012. The leaders of other parties, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, supported it.

Under the Central Vista project, the offices of the vice-president, the prime minister and the 51 ministries will be housed under one roof. MPs will have offices. All the buildings will be connected to each other. This will be an advantage from the security point of view and help get rid of the problems that people face during VIP movement.

The project will cost about Rs 20,000 crore and PM Modi wants to complete most of the important work before the end of his second term in 2024. The rest will be done later.

A section of society is questioning the need to spend such a huge amount on the project during the pandemic when the economy is badly hit. People are also questioning its purpose and benefits.

Normally, this logic may be sound, but the completion of the Central Vista project is important from the administrative point of view. I have been a part of the Parliament for 18 years so I have seen and understood the requirements closely. Many of these buildings are dilapidated and difficult to work in. The legislature sits in the Parliament House whereas the president, vice-president, prime minister and the officials of 51 ministries sit in different places. Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House, North Block and South Block, and the National Museum building were built in 1931. After that, Nirman Bhawan, Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan, Rail Bhawan and Krishi Bhawan were constructed between 1956 and 1968. Today, 39 ministries are housed in different buildings in the Central Vista area while 12 ministries are occupying rented premises outside. The annual rent for these buildings is about Rs 1,000 crore and they are located far from the PMO and other ministries. Obviously, the administrative work gets hampered. So, is spending such a huge amount on rent justified?

Another important point is that when the buildings were built in Central Vista and its surrounding areas, there was no digitalisation, unlike today. Now, along with the security of Parliament House and the ministries, the protection of digital files also matters. Building a new complex will ensure better security for both.

India is a rising power in the world today. Our priorities are changing, so it is very important that the entire central government should be accommodated in a cluster of buildings equipped with modern technology, so that ministers can easily reach out to each other, meet and interact. If the 51 ministries are closer to each other, it will definitely be a benefit from the administrative point of view.

We also have to keep in mind that our population is growing, so the number of MPs will have to be increased too in the future. Keeping this in mind, the new building of Parliament House will be built on about 65,400 square metres of land, with a large Constitution Hall, a lounge for MPs, a library, offices of several committees, etc. The Lok Sabha chamber will have the capacity to seat 888 members and the Rajya Sabha chamber will be able to accommodate 384 members. Along with this, there will be ample space for the National Museum, National Archives and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and our heritage will also be displayed in a dignified manner.

Those who are critical of this project say that Rs 20,000 crore should be spent on helping the poor and providing healthcare facilities during the pandemic. But is the government executing this project by diverting the funds meant for the poor or the needy? Of course not. The government is not rolling back any welfare scheme meant for the poor. All schemes are running as before. The poor must be helped and every government has been doing this. The point is that we have to plan for the future too.

If we look at our post-independence history, any person who has been in power — be it Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or Atal Bihari Vajpayee — has planned for the future and that is why India occupies its current prime position. If Rajiv Gandhi had not dreamt of a technology-rich India, would we have been where we are today? We must worry about the present. Our current problems should be solved, but we should also dream of a better future. The office of our Prime Minister should also be state-of-the-art, equipped and secure like the parliamentary and presidential buildings of the USA, Russia, Britain and other developed countries. That’s why there should be no politics in the case of the Central Vista project. There are several other subjects for politicking.

This column first appeared in the print edition on July 7, 2021 under the title ‘The essential vista’. The author is the chairman, editorial board of Lokmat Media, and former member of Rajya Sabha

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