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'Why does govt treat the people like enemies?'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
December 10, 2020 13:03 IST
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'This (opposition to the project) is not just architects, but everyone needs to know more.'
'We need to be allowed to participate, maybe, you can ignore what we have to say, that's your decision.'
'At least follow the process.'

IMAGE: The proposed new Parliament building. Photograph: Kind courtesy Om Birla, Speaker of 17th Lok Sabha/Twitter

Today, December 10, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi will lay the foundation stone for his most ambitious project -- a Rs 20,000 crore (Rs 200 billion) plan to redevelop Delhi's Central Vista that is home to buildings and precincts of historic importance and heritage value, including Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the iconic North and South Block right up to India Gate.

The project has come in for enormous flak from social, environmental and legal activists with each set having their own set of complaints, but all of which centre around the opacity and hush-hush way in which the scheme is being handled.

Delhi architect Madhav Raman has been closely following the redevelopment plan ever since it was announced in September 2019.

"Today, Delhi is struggling to breathe; you're running out of drinking water and you're building a triple basement parking and a 'toy' metro train which services exactly a two-kilometre stretch! You will have to remove all the ground water from an area which has the highest ground water table in the city right now," Raman tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com in the concluding segment of a revealing two part interview.

 

How will the Central Vista Redevelopment Project benefit the people of Delhi or help in efficient governance?

I am honestly very confused.

Given the (Narendra Modi) government's position on Digital India, on minimum governance, on disaggregated governance... recently the prime minister said in one Bloomberg New Economy Forum conference that the pandemic has taught us what sustainable cities should be like, how we have to think strategically about transport, how you burn fossil fuels... he has said we have to start looking innovatively at when video conferencing.

He himself gave an example of how he hasn't had to travel to this conference to give a speech.

If you do the math on the area, they are building some 15 lakh square metres according to what we are seeing in the 3D designs. This means for 55,000 people, 300 square feet of area per officer will be available. Majority of average Indian household units are less than 300 square feet.

There has to be some sense of space. You can discuss aesthetic sensibilities later. As architects we are also practical people; everything has to have logic. There is a certain basis, certain ideals, on which certain space allocations are made while consuming core national space.

Like the ideal of taking a set of buildings that the British built and make them our own by birthing our Constitution here; by protesting here. We have earned our right to celebrate this national space.

We are the government of the people; (this government) clearly got the mandate of the people, so why treat the people like enemies?

Do you know they are also planning to build a toy metro station? There are two consecutive stations on either side of Central Vista. One is the Central Secretariat; the other is Udyog Bhavan. They are literally one kilometre away from each other.

Now, they are planning a 'toy' metro, basically that is how I refer to this metro, underground which will go from one station (Central Secretariat) to the other (Udyog Bhavan), in a giant U-turn, to get the government officers more efficiently into their offices if they choose to use the metro train, that is.

Now, government officers themselves reside all over the city. Chances are they will not be using the metro station, but private transport substantially, because of the nature of the connectivity of the metro.

So, you are going to build this and it's not going to be used in the way at which it will become super-efficient right now.

What will be the impact of the Central Vista project on the environment of Delhi?

There are three registers of laws here. There are democratic assets, which is all this living heritage, public space, and public use versus government use.

There are issues to do with built heritage, which is protecting the skyline, trees, precincts, landscapes, etc.

Right now, it's the Parliament that has got environmental clearance. It is the Parliament that has got its building sanctioned.

The Central Vista project is in the process of getting it (environmental clearance).

The fact that you have separated it seems like you are trying to do the first (Parliament building) bit quickly without the kind of scrutiny you would need if you were doing it as a full-fledged project (building Parliament building and the Central Vista project together), which requires you to submit your environmental applications along those categories.

You have not done that because a larger project comes in for greater scrutiny, including a compulsory public consultation. So for Parliament, we've got clearance without going to that by just sneaking in the area just under what is required. It just doesn't feel good.

We shouldn't be playing cops and robbers with the government. This (opposition to the project) is not just architects, but everyone needs to know more.

We need to be allowed to participate, maybe, you can ignore what we have to say, that's your decision. At least follow the process.

Someone else will become Government of India a few years from now and if they don't agree with you, everything's going to go through this whole routine again and that's the real danger.

Today, Delhi is struggling to breathe; you're running out of drinking water and you're building a triple basement parking and a 'toy' metro train which services exactly a two-kilometre stretch!

You will have to remove all the ground water from an area which has the highest ground water table in the city right now.

What about the government's claim that they will be saving a thousand crore in rent paid once the Central Vista project becomes a reality?

I'm just a simple person doing simple math. Land has a specific government use in Delhi because there are government buildings here -- state and central.

All land on which government occupies offices today belongs to the government. These office spaces create circular rent.

There is an agency called Land And Development Office (L&DO), a subsidiary of ministry of housing and urban affairs.

They manage the land for the President of India. They issue leases to various government ministries, which are given land/officers as per their requirements, and charge you a rent because they are giving you land and maintaining it as part of the lease agreement.

But this is a zero-profit, zero-loss account.

All the government offices paying rents to L&DO get their money from the finance ministry and give it to L&DO, which in turn gives it to the ministry of housing and urban affairs, which in turn gives its earnings back to the ministry of finance.

This makes us feel that the government is treating us like small kids.

Then there's this objective of increasing the Parliamentary capacity?

Again look at the math.

We are now in 2020 and represented by 545 MPs in Lok Sabha.

In Article 82 of the Constitution there is a law related to delimitation of Parliament. It says that once you finish the first Census after 2026, you may change the allocation of Lok Sabha seats and increase the number of Parliamentarians.

Until that Census happens in 2031 (the first Census year after the 2026 threshold), whatever size of Parliament you build today (as part of the Central Vista project), you can't increase the member representation until that census happens in 2031 as per the delimitation clause under Article 82.

If you look at all population projections, by 2041 we are going to be a declining population. That doesn't mean our growth rate will drop; we will only drop in absolute numbers.

With this new Parliament building that is likely to be completed in 2024, you are not going to have more Parliamentarians till 2031 at the earliest.

And then you will get to use it to the new capacity only for ten years (till 2041) and after that you have to start reducing the number of Parliamentarians in order to be more representative of population demographics of India.

This is just a lay architect talking to a reporter, but actually there are more complexities that involve the federal structure of the Indian Union.

You can't just randomly increase the number of Parliamentarians.

You have to talk to the states; some states, which have smaller populations but higher contribution to economic growth, may argue that they want greater representation than what is allotted to them on the basis of their population.

All these complex issues cannot be comprehended and decided by an outside consultant.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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