Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, December 10, laid the foundation stone for the new Parliament building. The event was attended by more than 200 dignitaries, including ministers and religious leaders.
The new Parliament building is part of the ₹20,000 crores Central Vista project, a grand redevelopment project of the building, a common central secretariat, and other Central government buildings on the 3 km long stretch on Rajpath, from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the India Gate.
However, the project has sparked a debate and has been criticised by the opposition, bureaucrats, and others, calling it an 'irresponsible' move by the Centre.
Critics have said the project comes at a time when the government requires funds to step up mitigation attempts in the current crisis (coronavirus pandemic), fixing the catastrophic air pollution, public health system and much more.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala criticized PM Modi for ignoring the plight of farmers who have been camping in and around Delhi to repeal the farm laws. "History will also record that when the farmers are fighting for the rights for 16 days on the streets, then you were building a palace for yourself in the name of Central Vista," Surjewala tweeted.
The stone laying ceremony was held at a time when thousands of farmers are protesting against the three farm laws for 15 consecutive days now. Despite five rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, the deadlock continues.
Many have called the project an exercise in vanity, while others have raised questions on the project being awarded to a Gujarat-based architecture firm. The destruction of the heritage building has also been a topic of discussion.
In May, 60 retired bureaucrats had written to PM Modi and Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, cautioning them about the severe environmental damage due to the project. The officials also pointed out that there was no parliamentary debate or discussion before the decisions were taken with regard to the project.
According to the report by Scroll.in, the estimated cost of ₹20,000 crores is equivalent to 1% of the COVID-19 relief package offered by the Centre. This has raised questions about the wastefulness at the taxpayer's expense in carrying out the project.
Various experts have opined that government should focus on economy given the conduction of millions of poor Indians that have become the worse-off in this pandemic and are in urgent need of financial support. The funds allocated to the Central Vista, could be diverted to help ease their condition.
Many said the government could spend the money to improve the public healthcare system and acquire essential equipment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that approximately over 7.14 lakh ventilators or 13.3 lakh portable ventilators used in Intensive Care Units (ICUs), that cost between ₹1.5 lakh-9 lakh each, could be bought with the ₹20,000 crores set aside for the project.
Another point raised by critics is of the amount the Centre owes to the states as their share of Goods and Services Tax (GST). The Centre owes nearl ₹30,000 crores to states as GST compensation.
The Supreme Court on December 7, pulled up the government for going ahead 'aggressively' with the construction works of the Central Vista project, even as the petitions and issue of legality on the construction were sub-judice. Expressing its strong disagreement with the Centre, the top Court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the government, to get clear directives to make sure that no construction is carried out under the project in central Delhi, given the court still has to give its verdict.
The apex court then granted permission to the Centre to proceed with the foundation stone-laying ceremony and paperwork of the proposed new Parliament building scheduled on December 10, noting that no construction and demolition of structures is carried out at the site.
Last month, on November 5, the top Court had reserved judgment on multiple petitions challenging the ₹20,000 crore project, involving the redevelopment of over 86 acres of land in Lutyens, Delhi.
The lack of public consultation over the redevelopment project has also been highlighted by several experts. In a seminar titled, "Voices for the Vista – Questioning the Redevelopment of the Central Vista", organised by a citizens' collective, LokPATH, in March, many citizens voiced their concerns over the opacity of the project.
Kanchi Kohli, one of the attendees, who works on environment, forest and biodiversity governance, said neither a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) was done, nor an environmental public hearing was conducted.