A real estate project has become a symbol of the Indian government’s apathy amid the Covid crisis

Case of misplaced priorities?
Case of misplaced priorities?
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Even as India fights a deadly Covid-19 crisis, a real estate project in the capital city has been the center of many discussions for several weeks now.

The Central Vista project, an estimated Rs20,000 crore ($2.8 billion) development of a new power corridor in New Delhi, is being widely debated and criticised as work at the site continues at full speed even after the capital city saw a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

Many believe that the project reflects the Narendra Modi government’s misplaced priorities.

What is the Central Vista project?

One of the most ambitious projects of the Modi government, the Central Vista will include a new parliament house to replace the current one that was constructed 93-year-old ago, new residences for the prime minister and the vice-president, and offices for several central government departments. These new buildings are being constructed along the Rashtrapati Bhavan-India Gate stretch in central Delhi.

The project was first envisaged in 2019 as the government believed the existing facilities were not adequate, and its construction started in January this year.

Some of the key highlights of the project are:

  • A new parliament building complex that has the capacity to seat 1,224 members in the upper house and 888 in the lower house. Currently, the upper house accommodates 245 while the lower house has a capacity of 545. The new complex will also have separate offices for all the members of parliament.
  • A massive constitution hall showcasing India’s democratic heritage.
  • A prime minister’s residence with 10 four-storey buildings.
  • A vice-president’s enclave with 32 buildings.
  • Secretariat buildings that can accommodate roughly 70,000 central government employees, who currently operate from 30 buildings across New Delhi.

Tata Projects was assigned the contract to build the Central Vista in September 2020, and the government hopes to complete construction by December 2022.

Once the building is constructed, the existing parliament building will be used as additional functional spaces for parliamentary-related events.

Why is the Central Vista project being criticised?

As the number of Covid-19 cases skyrocketed in various parts of India last month, many states, including Delhi, have gone into lockdowns. Unlike 2020, when India had the strictest Covid-19 lockdown in the world, which brought the country’s economy to its knees, the restrictions this year are more nuanced. For instance, in most states, dine-in restaurants are shut but good deliveries are being done smoothly.

Interestingly, the national capital, which is under a complete lockdown and is allowing only limited activities has termed the Central Vista project as an “essential service”.

Beyond just lockdown regulations, many feel that the government is choosing to spend on a vanity project when it should be using its funds for fighting the ongoing oxygen shortage in the country.

Left political leader Sitaram Yechury termed the government’s plans to continue with the project “grotesque.”

“This is grotesque. No money for Oxygen and Vaccines as our brothers and sisters die waiting for a hospital bed to be cremated in parking lots But Modi will squander public money to feed his megalomaniac vanity. Stop this Crime,” he said in a tweet.

While the central government has not clarified its stance on why the construction hasn’t halted, a spokesperson of the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) told Scroll.in that the “only critical activities are going on (at the site). As of now, only those workers who are on the site are allowed, workers from outside are not allowed.”

Another CPWD spokesperson said that they have made limited arrangements for the stay of labour at the site. However, this claim was contested by a construction worker from Uttar Pradesh who said the labour was not allowed to stay at the site.