OpinionI Speak My Mind

Rahul Wants Pasta, Not Vista

Around May 6, 2021, the Congress party started a campaign against the Central Vista Project (CVP) being developed by the GOVERNMENT OF INDIA in the NATIONAL CAPITAL.

This was not the first time. Opposition started when the project was first announced, then when the foundation stone was laid by the PRIME MINISTER, and again during the first wave of COVID-19. The initial negative articles, published mostly by the anti-Modi media, were based on ‘expert’ opinions of urban planners and architects who had lost the contest to design the project.

I have capitalized some words above to emphasize the point that the government of the day is building something with several long term benefits for the nation, and it is not an individual or a political party building something for personal gain, as the individual (Modi) or party (BJP) concerned will not be in power permanently. Does the Congress believe that he/they will, and is that their concern? Or is their concern that they could not do it in 2012 (more about that later). Or that they will not be able to name it Sonia Gandhi Vista, like they have named at least 98 educational institutions; 98 roads, buildings, stadiums, airports, ports, and other places; 64 government schemes; 51 awards; 39 hospitals and medical institutions; 37 institutions or chairs; 28 sports tournaments or trophies; 15 fellowships; and 15 sanctuaries or parks after Nehru, Indira Gandhi, or Rajiv Gandhi?

Let me tell you what the CVP is all about. By 2027, the Government of India will have infrastructure that will be more modern than any other nation’s capital.

The 919-acre area around the 2.9–km Rajpath from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate is being redeveloped. Existing buildings of 42.6 lakh sq.ft., some of which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, are being demolished. No heritage building designed by British architect Sir Edward Lutyens is being touched, contrary to misinformation being spread by vested interests. Several new buildings totalling ~1.89 crore sq.ft. will be built; with a maximum height of 128 feet, 10 feet lower than India Gate.

Here are images of the current and the proposed Master Plan of the New Delhi Central Vista.

See how the current buildings on the North and South of Rajpath (top Pic)—90% of them built by Congress governments—are of haphazard shapes and sizes, and compare it to how well the new Master Plan is synchronized (bottom Pic).

Currently, there are hundreds of hutments on the South-east of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Most of these will be demolished and replaced with an Executive Enclave for Members of Parliament, as well as for relocating the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Here are two aerial views of the New Central Vista, the first being a close-up, and the second from a height. In the first image, Rashtrapati Bhawan can be seen on the top and the National War Memorial as well as India Gate at the bottom. In the second, you can see Connaught Place on the top right.

Although the CVP is budgeted at ₹13,450 crores, having been closely associated with the construction of hospitals for six years and real estate projects for 14 years, Amit estimates that the cost is likely to go up to ₹25,000 crores by the time the project is completed, due to many miscellaneous items not being budgeted as well as cost escalations.

It is very important to keep in mind that this investment (it is not an expenditure) will be spread over seven years, and is not being made only during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only amount being spent from 2020 to August 2022 is ₹1,339 crores.

The first building being constructed is a new four–storey 6.94 lakh sq.ft. triangular NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE (see Pic), 36% larger than the existing 93-year-old building, with enhanced seating capacities of 888 in the Lok Sabha vs. the current 552 and 384 in the Rajya Sabha vs. the current 245.

Post–2026, the strength of both houses are mandated to increase to reflect the growth in India’s population. This has nothing to do with Modi or the BJP.

It is part of the Constitution. The number of Lok Sabha seats were increased (“delimitation”) to 494 in 1952 based on the 1951 census, 522 in 1963 based on the 1961 census, and 543 in 1973 based on the 1971 census.

Though there was supposed to be a delimitation exercise every 10 years, this did not happen after 1973. In 2002, through a Constitutional Amendment, it was decided that the next delimitation will be done in 2026 based on the 2021 census.

If British can have 650 parliamentarians, Canada 443 and the US 535 why can’t we have 1000?” asked former President Pranab Mukherjee in December 2019. He was not a BJP politician, but spent most of his career in the Congress.

The new Lok Sabha Hall will accommodate 1,224 MPs for a ‘joint’ sitting of both the expanded houses.

The existing 93-year-old building has several structural problems and cannot be expanded to accommodate the growth of both houses. It is already crammed. Very few MPs have offices in the current building, and MPs of almost all parties have complained about this several times over the years. Besides, there is no space for staff of MPs.

The building is being readied on a war–footing before 15 August 2022, to coincide with the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence; hence it cannot be delayed. This was a long overdue need which is being fulfilled.

Features in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha halls will include a desk in every MP’s seat (currently available only in front rows), enough space behind seats for free movement, a touchscreen-based digital voting system, biometric-based dual authentication, and an intuitive multilingual graphical user interface.

There will be a Constitution Hall, which visitors can access, to understand India’s journey as a parliamentary democracy. There will also be a lounge and a dining room for MPs, a library, multiple committee rooms, and 1,100 car parks. Each MP will have a 430 sq.ft. office with space for staff.

The new Parliament building is being built by Tata Projects at a cost ₹862 crores.

A CENTRAL VISTA AVENUE (see Pics), with bridges over canals, pedestrian underpasses, wide footpaths, more green areas than now, benches for seating, and tree-shaded public parking spaces, is being built by Shapoorji Pallonji at a cost of ₹477 crores. This is also being readied on a war-footing to host the next Republic Day parade on January 26, 2022

The PM is not the focus on Republic Day—it is the President of India and the Armed Forces, and the Congress party and shameless ‘leftist’ journalists are insulting these two institutions of our democracy by opposing the project, or trying to get it delayed by hook or by crook. They detest any development work done by Modi.

Neither TATA Projects nor Shapoorji Pallonji are Gujarati companies. Both belong to the minority Parsi community, and are amongst the three largest construction companies in India.

The CVP includes residential enclaves for the Vice President and the PM, with the Vice President’s residential enclave expected to get completed in end-2022, and the Prime Minister’s residential complex expected to get completed in mid-2023. Modi has been criticised for building a ‘grand new palace’ for himself.

‘Senior’ journalist Alpana Kishore wrote in Newslaundry online news portal, “Such self-indulgence may be common in dictatorships, but is inappropriate for a Republic. On the other hand, if we are in the Beijing–Moscow– Pyongyang axis where citizens are passive spectators, it is absolutely normal.”

I estimate that the entire PM’s residential complex will cost less than ₹500 crores, including special security measures such as a direct underground tunnel to the new Parliament building. Is this too much for a permanent residence for the chief executive of the world’s second largest country and sixth largest economy?

Even if the NDA wins the 2024 general elections and Modi becomes PM again, I am sure he will give up the post soon after September 17, 2025, when he reaches the age of 75, as he has done for all his ministers. Therefore, at best, Modi will live in the new home for a little over two years.

Besides, the construction of the PM’s residential complex is not part of Phase 1.

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri chose 10 Janpath as his official residence, though Prime Minister Nehru had lived at Teen Murti Bhawan. Indira Gandhi chose 1 Safdarjung Road. Rajiv Gandhi chose 7 Race Course Road (now 7 Lok Kalyan Marg or 7LKM). This was all OK as they were from the Congress?

Alpana wrote, “The biggest irony remains that a PM from the humblest of backgrounds should yearn for a house on Rajpath, no less, to endorse his vision of personal greatness and legacy. Would Emmanuel Macron [President of France] demand and, more importantly, get a house on the Champs Elysée? Can even Trump order himself a second home on the [Natonal] Mall?

It is surprising a ‘senior’ journalist like her didn’t do research on the subject—or did she know the truth but chose to hide it? The President of France’s residence is the 1,20,330 sq.ft. “Elysée Palace” located just 500 meters from the iconic Champs-Élysées. He also has the use of other homes, including the “Fort de Brégançon” off the French Riviera near Marseille and the “La Lanterne”, a hunting lodge in Versailles, a 35-minute drive from Élysée Palace.

Should Modi build a beach mansion in Goa and a hunting lodge in Uttarakhand as retreats for the Prime Minister of India, Ms AKishore?

Now let me come to Trump, who was POTUS (President of the United States) when she wrote the article. POTUS has a second home: a 200–acre country retreat called “Camp David”. Even though it’s only 103-km from The White House (the official residence), POTUS mostly flies there on three (and sometimes up to five) helicopters, each costing about ₹1650 crore, the rest serving as decoys. The presidential fleet has 35 helicopters with 23 new ones on order. That’s ₹95,700 crores only for helicopters, four times the cost of the Central Vista project.

And the leftist media’s favourite Joe Biden has not cancelled the orders for the 23 new ones to divert the funds for America’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Leftist media also call Narendra Modi a fascist, comparing him often with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In 2014, Erdoğan built himself a 1,000-room, 31 lakh sq.ft. palace for US$615 million (₹9,620 crore in 2021 prices based on Turkey’ inflation). The Indian PM’s new residence will be built at less than 6% of that cost.

Coming back to the project components, the CVP will have a Defence Enclave comprising three buildings, with offices of the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff and the three service chiefs, with special security arrangements.

There will be six other buildings to house all the other ministries and departments (apart from defence) of the GOI and their subordinate organisations.

All nine buildings have been labelled as the Central Secretariat in the 2027 Master Plan image.

The Conference Centre will be the largest government conference facility in the world.

There will be total office space for ~53,000 people, and parking for almost 10,000 vehicles in basements. With the retained buildings accommodating another ~17,000 people, there will be ~70,000 physically inter-connected GOI employees. There will be no surface parking. An underground Metro will connect the whole Central Vista. There will also be underground walkways to connect most of the buildings.

South Block, which currently houses the PMO, the cabinet secretariat, the defence and foreign ministries, and the Office of the NSA, will be converted to a National Museum with the theme ‘India up to 1857’. North Block, which currently houses the home and finance Ministries, will be converted to a National Museum with the theme ‘India since 1857’.

The CVP is expected to greatly improve the GOI’s efficiency due to the synergies of 70,000 people being located within walking distance of each other and standardised modern infrastructure (with much more natural lighting and much improved air quality compared with North Block and South Block) for everybody.

Additionally, the GOI spends ₹1000 crore per year as rent and ~₹300 crore on excess security and transport costs due to various ministries and Army/IAF/Navy headquarters not being within walking distance. The investment will be recovered by saving these costs. There will also be some revenue from the museums to be built at the existing North and South Blocks. Add fuel savings, as ~70,000 GOI employees will be at a walking distance with each other, compared to ~41,000 now. And what is the cost vs. benefit of improved efficiency?

The Central Vista zone will be somewhat similar to the area around the “National Mall” in Washington, D.C. (see Pic), which includes the White House, the U.S. Capitol (the US’s ‘parliament house’), the U.S. Supreme Court, several other government buildings, many museums, parks and several monuments. Almost 2.2 crore domestic tourists visited the Mall in 2018—with India’s population being ~4.2 times that of the US, imagine the tourism potential of the new Central Vista.

Neither is the new Parliament going to be enjoyed by just the BJP and its allies (MPs of all parties will get the benefit) nor is the BJP going to be in power permanently.

Alpana Kishore also wrote about “secrecy and subterfuge” in the selection of the master planner/architect, “With the contract going to a Gujarat architecture firm [HCP Design, Planning & Management] known to be particularly close to the PM, whose previous projects had depended for their execution upon the removal of ‘obstacles’ like due process, impact assessments, public consultation, and well-established global best practices.”

Well, Ms Kishore, HCP started 41 years before Modi became CM of Gujarat in 2001. they designed the RBI’s Ahmedabad Office in 1971, when there was a Congress CM and Indira Gandhi–appointed S. Jagannathan was RBI governor. In 1985, it designed the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, when Rajiv Gandhi was PM. In 1986, HCP designed the refurbishment of the Eden Gardens cricket stadium in Calcutta, where there was a CPI(M) government. In 1992, it designed the Gujarat High Court when Chimanbhai Patel of Janata Dal was CM. In 1994, HCP designed the CG Road redevelopment project in Ahmedabad, when there was another Congress CM. Should I go on?

In April 2020, after Hindustan Times refused to publish an attack against the CVP (which supported Kishore’s article) by the so-called historian Ramachandra Guha in his regular weekly columns, Guha quit from Hindustan Times and got it published in anti-Modi website The Wire. Guha wrote, “I share her concerns entirely. The PM’s own justification is that it was to mark not a personal but a national milestone—the 75th anniversary of Indian independence. This is disingenuous, because past anniversaries had not called for such a spectacular extravaganza. Both the 25th and 50th anniversaries had been suitably marked, by a special session of Parliament. Apparently, what was good enough for Indira Gandhi and IK Gujral wouldn’t quite do for Modi.”

Are special Parliament sessions suitable celebrations of such important milestones? And why does Modi need to copy Indira or Gujral? He’s a PM who has done many things differently.

Guha wrote, “The Modi government’s redesign of Delhi brings to mind not so much living communist autocrats as it does some dead African despots. It is the sort of vanity project, designed to perpetuate the ruler’s immortality, that Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast and Jean Bédel-Bokassa of the Central African Republic once inflicted on their own countries.”

Malaysia built Putrajaya in 2001. In August 2019, Indonesia announced a new capital. South Korea began construction of Sejong City in 2007, with some ministries relocating from Seoul in 2012. Complete relocation of the capital is expected by 2030. Australia built a new Parliament House in 1988. Thailand’s new ₹5,400 crore Parliament House opened this month. Are these countries also like Ivory Coast or Central African Republic?

Let’s come back to India. Chandra Babu Naidu had started building a new capital city at Amravati (see Pic) for Andhra Pradesh at an estimated cost of ₹55,000 crores (more than four times the CVP), before he was voted out in 2019.

In 2001, Rajasthan completed a new Assembly building. In 2005, the Congress government built a replica of the old Assembly building in Bengaluru, which didn’t have enough space (same logic doesn’t apply to the new Parliament?). In 2012, Karnataka CM Kumaraswamy (a Congress partner) built a new Assembly building for almost ₹500 crores (₹833 cr. today) in Belagavi. Why did Karnataka need a second capital?

In 2010, DMK (a Congress partner) started building a new Assembly building for ₹1,200 crores (₹2366 cr. today) in Chennai. The foundation stone was laid by Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh and over ₹3 crores were spent on a temporary dome. After taking over as CM in 2011, Jayalalithaa converted the incomplete building to a hospital-cum-medical college.

In 2013, Mamata Banerjee started a ₹350 crore (₹534 cr.) project to revamp the Colonial-era Writers’ Building. In the meantime, she spent ₹50 crores on renovating a temporary office on the Howrah side of the Hooghly river. In 2016, CM Akhilesh Yadav (a Congress partner) inaugurated a ₹602 crore (₹816 cr.) new Secretariat at Lucknow, UP. In 2019, Naveen Patnaik inaugurated a new Secretariat at Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Telangana’s KC Rao is building new Assembly and Secretariat buildings for ₹617 crores.

All of these are justified, right, because they are all non-BJP governments?

Even during COVID-19, two Congress states announced plans for new buildings. In August 2020, the Chhattisgarh government announced a 5.65 lakh sq.ft. Assembly building, 81.4% the size of the country’s new Parliament building.

In the first week of May 2021, at the height of the second wave of COVID-19, the Shiv Sena–NCP–Congress “Maha Vikas Aghadi” government in Maharashtra floated a tender of ₹900 crores for a MLA hostel of ~10 lakh sq.ft.. Not only is this proposed building more expensive than the new Parliament, the contractor (Maharashtra PWD Department) says the cost will shoot up further, with the electrical cost alone estimated at ₹250 crores. The tender cost of ₹9,000/sq.ft. is >1.4x the cost of constructing a 5-star hotel. And no way can the electrical cost be more than ₹40 crores. I won’t be surprised if more than ₹300 crores comes to the coffers of the Shiv Sena–NCP–Congress in the form of kickbacks.

Architect and conservation consultant AG Krishna Menon wrote in The Print on March 8, 2020, that BJP wants to ‘erase’ colonial heritage. Why should India keep ‘colonial’ heritage 75 years after Independence? Is the British Raj something for us to cherish? He also inferred that the CVP does not take care of (ecological) conservation. There is no basis for this. The Central Vista will free up ~75 acres for public use. In addition, a 50-acre Biodiversity Arboretum has been planned behind Rashtrapati Bhavan, which will have plants from different climatic zones.

The CVP area currently has 4,642 trees—1,412 shall be retained and 3,230 transplanted to the upcoming 884-acre NTPC Eco Park at Badarpur (See Times of India infographic).

No tree is being cut and no old Jamun tree from Lutyens’ era is being transplanted. About 400 trees already transplanted have a survival rate is over 80%. The overall green cover in the Central Vista will increase, with a net gain of 563 trees. 36,083 trees will be planted in Delhi, including 32,330 trees in the Eco Park.

All buildings will have access to the underground metro with pedestrian subways and will have only underground parking spaces. Plus thousands of daily vehicle trips between currently scattered offices will be reduced.

All this will reduce the carbon footprint from the existing Lutyens Zone and will also reduce pollution.

The Congress and AMB’s argument of not enough money being spent on COVID-19 relief measures is completely baseless. The GOI has sanctioned ₹35,000 crores for vaccination. The GOI and the RBI have sanctioned over ₹27.45 lakh crores towards other relief measures. On May 1, 2021, the GOI released ₹8,873 crores to the State Disaster Relief Fund without waiting for utilisation certificates of the amounts provided to states in the last year. Disaster relief funds of ₹30,000 crores had been given by the GOI to states in the prior year. On May 5, 2021, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) opened an on-tap liquidity window of ₹50,000 crore with tenors of up to three years at an interest rate of 4% till March 31, 2022, to boost provision of immediate liquidity for ramping up Covid-related healthcare infrastructure and services. All of this out together is 114.75 times our estimated cost for the CVP.

Besides, only ₹1339 crore is being spent on the CVP till August 2022, which is just 0.047% of the money being spent on COVID-19 relief measures by the GOI.

Congress leaders have spent more than an estimated ₹20 crores on foreign travel from the time the pandemic started in India. Couldn’t they pay for 16 PSA medical oxygen generation plants instead of this?

Phase-1 of the CVP has created direct and indirect employment for over 2,500 people, which is needed, isn’t it?

AAP spokesperson Reena Gupta said that the Modi government should pay construction workers ₹5000 per month to stay at home. Wow! Let’s create a few lakh more dole-seekers in India.

AAP MLA Mukesh Ahlawat tweeted that the cost of the CVP can pay for 15 AIIMS hospitals. While the actual number would have been 8–9 AIIMS hospitals, should we not compare with the multiple (alleged) scams during the Sonia-rule (2004–2014)? The ₹10.3 lakh crore Bank NPA scam would have paid for 350 AIIMS, the ₹1.856 lakh crore CoalGate scam 63 AIIMS, the ₹1.76 lakh crore 2G scam 60 AIIMS, the ₹70,000 crore CWG scam 24 AIIMS, the ₹61,250 crore Fake Employees scam 21 AIIMS, amongst many others. All the scams put together in the Sonia-Manmohan era would have paid for a minimum of 600 AIIMS hospitals, almost one for every district in India.

This letter stated: “The Parliament building was constructed in the 1920s … Over the decades on account of ageing and over use the building has started showing the signs of distress at various places. The present sitting capacity of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is likely to go up after 2026. The seats in Lok Sabha may go up before 2026 also if Women’s Reservation Bill provided for augmented strength is passed by the Parliament. In such a scenario it will be necessary to have a new Lok Sabha chamber with larger sitting capacity.” The letter further stated that instructions should be given to the Central Public Works Dept. to find an area close to the existing Parliament complex and to identify a suitable location for constructing a state-of-the-art new Parliament building.

We badly need a parliament building. This one simply isn’t functional and is outdated,” said then Union Minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh.

Yet the Congress is attacking Modi for doing the exact same thing. This exposes yet another duplicity of the Congress party.

Do you know why the Congress is opposing not only the Parliament building, but the entire Central Vista Project? There are four main reasons.

The Sonia government allegedly wanted to build a ~3.75 lakh square foot Parliament building at an estimated cost of ₹600 crores in 2012, or ₹16,000/sq.ft., or ₹26,656/sq.ft. crores at today’s cost based on inflation. The Modi government is building a 6.94 lakh sq. ft. building @ ₹862 crores, or ₹12,420/sq.ft. So the Congress has missed a big opportunity, if you get what I mean.

Secondly, many buildings that the GOI currently leases and which may become useless after the CVP is complete, are owned by Congress leaders. An Enquiry Commission should be immediately set up to ascertain how many Congress-leader-owned buildings across India are leased to the GOI and state governments, various departments, PSUs, and the like.

Thirdly, the delimitation exercise due in 2016 will reduce the proportional number of seats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where the Congress still has some existence. Therefore, Congress’s seat share in the Lok Sabha is likely to go down even more after delimitation.

Fourthly, like I said earlier, the Congress does not want Modi to get the credit for something that will ultimately make all Indians proud. Yes, many of the same people who are criticizing the project now will start praising it in the years to come. Most are known to change their colours and go with the popular flow of the times.

Never again will Central government offices be overcrowded, dirty and stinky. Never again will its employees waste time in commuting. Corruption will reduce because all public meeting rooms are being put in the front part of every ministry building in the CVP with glass walls. And all Indians will be proud of a new capital city (well, almost all!).

This article is an extract from the new No.1 bestseller book MODI STOLE MY MASK. You can order the Kindle eBook HERE and the Paperback Print Edition HERE.

DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author.

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