The Supreme Court had warned the government not to carry out any work on the Central Vista project, as it had 10 petitions pending.
The Central Vista, a grand redevelopment project for building what will be the power corridor of India with a new Parliament building, is to be built at an estimated approximate cost of Rs. 20,000 Crore.
The project, which also houses a common central secretariat and revamped three-km-long Rajpath from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate, was earlier halted by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court had warned the government not to carry out any work on the Central Vista project, as it had a bunch of 10 petitions pending, which challenged the mega redevelopment plan.
The Supreme Court was particularly unhappy over a press release by the government that said the construction was to begin, and that translocation of trees was underway despite the court having reserved order on November 5, 2020, on the matter. The Supreme Court had, however, allowed conditional ‘Bhoomi Pujan’.
The project has not only been objected to in the Supreme Court, but there have been many controversies chasing it, with many calling it merely a ‘wasteful adventure on public money.’
New Conditions Approved But Costs Sour
The Environment Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) conditionally approved new Terms of Reference (ToR) for the redevelopment project.
EAC specified as many as 18 conditions, asking the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to list the environmental, social and economic benefits of the project and the cumulative impact of all developments undertaken in the Central Vista avenue including its effect on baseline environmental quality, according to the minutes of a December 17 EAC meeting published on Monday (December 28).
CPWD was asked to provide data on land, groundwater, surface water, air, biodiversity, noise and vibration, socio-economic and health impacts and spell out detailed plans for the demolition of existing structures, groundwater recharge and traffic management and submit a recommendation from the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC).
CPWD, the project developer, submitted in a presentation to EAC that the common central secretariat will consolidate all ministries of the Centre and improve productivity and efficiency of administration.
The central conference center will cater to the ministries’ conferencing needs. These will also be connected by an automated people mover to the Delhi Metro. Modern and secure residential facilities will be built for the Prime Minister and the Vice President, according to the minutes of the EAC’s December 17 meeting.
An earlier application by CPWD to amend the terms of reference for the project to add several new components of construction was rejected by EAC on grounds that the former had been seeking clearances in a piecemeal fashion. EAC observed in the minutes of a meeting published on November 25 that CPWD should refrain from the piecemeal approach for the proposed development and redevelopment of projects in the Central Vista.
Approval for terms of reference signifies the initial clearance needed for any development project. After its application to amend was rejected, CPWD submitted a fresh proposal. In CPWD’s revised proposal, there was no mention of the Prime Minister’s Office, which found a mention in previous one.
The total built-up area has been reduced from 18,37,057 sq.m to 17,21,500 sq.m, but the cost of the redevelopment project has increased by Rs 1,656 crores, from Rs.11,794 crores to Rs. 13,450 crores.
Whopping Rs. 13,450 Crore Demolition Cost
At the December 17 meeting, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) Expert Appraisal Committee agreed to grant the ToR for the project, as a part of the process of environment impact assessment and environment clearance.
“All buildings are RCC (reinforced concrete) frame structures with infill masonry walls. The structures are of G+5 to G+6 storey. Since the building is situated in a very sensitive area, adequate care and precaution will be taken to reduce noise and dust while ensuring appropriate safety. Buildings will be fully covered from all sides with appropriate staging/barricading and covering using appropriate green cloth or sheets for full building height so as to control and contain the dust/debris within the building premises,” CPWD said in its proposal.
Importantly, the proposed built-up area would be 17,21,500 square metres and the area to be demolished would be 4,58,820 square metres, at a total cost of ₹13,450 crore, which is approximately 67% more than the total project cost. Consequently, it would be right to call it a Rs. 33,450 Crore Project, which is huge!
‘Central Vista Project Is Quite Unsystematic’
LokPATH, a public collaborative, has stated that the “integrated” proposal recommended for a cumulative impact assessment by the EAC does not include buildings like the Shram Shakti Bhawan and Transport Bhawan which by the admission of the project consultants “will be the first two buildings to be razed to pave the way for the construction of chambers of Members of Parliament there as part of Central Vista redevelopment project”.
It said this admission came within 10 days of the EAC’s recommendation for a ToR and it invalidated the expert committee’s conclusion that the CPWD’s third piecemeal proposal is “integrated”.
“This third proposal that was submitted to the EAC (also) did not include the new Parliament and the New India Garden on the Yamuna floodplains, which are an integral part of the Central Vista Redevelopment,” the collective pointed out.
‘Alternate Options Not Studied’
A Citizen’s Collective group said the application form for environment clearance requires project proponents to disclose ‘Details of Alternative Sites examined, if any’. However, it added that location of these sites should be shown on a toposheet. But, the CPWD’s answer to this question was “No”, indicating that either alternatives were not studied or not disclosed to the EAC at the time the ToR was recommended.
Without an assessment of alternatives to the project and to its location, how has the CPWD concluded that this is the best use of public resources and the least environmentally damaging project, the group asked. It also added that “without an assessment of alternatives, the project’s claims of public benefits are merely an expectation and not a fact. The EAC cannot appraise a project that is not based on facts.”
Disaster For The Environment & Biodiversity
According to some experts, the project spells disaster for the environment and indigenous bird and plant species that stand to be dislocated and destroyed. They opine that government needs to look for alternatives.
Flamboyancy Amid The Pandemic
In the current scenario when the health of citizens has assumed top priority and the economic fallout of the pandemic needs urgent attention, the Central Vista project certainly looks a flamboyant one.
Given the world-wide tend of more allocations for health sector, there have been many voices asking the government to consider its priorities, at a time when the country is battling its way out of a pandemic. The project is surely ill-timed.
Final Decision About Central Vista Pending In Supreme Court
The conditional approval granted by the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to the new terms of reference for the development or redevelopment of various buildings under the project has been criticized by many including architects, urban planners, historians and politicians who have charged that such an assessment only diverts additional public money when the Supreme Court’s final decision on the project is still pending.
Some experts have raised red flags on the project’s environmental impact. For these and related reasons, multiple petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court. Pending the apex court’s decision, no new construction or demolition activity can take place on this project.