WHAT IS IT?
It is an ambitious project of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre, which aims to redevelop a 3.2-km stretch called the Central Vista that lies at the heart of Lutyens Delhi built by the Britishers in the 1930s. The project involves demolishing and rebuilding several government buildings, including iconic landmarks, and constructing a new Parliament at a total cost of Rs 20,000 crore. In 2019, the central government announced the redevelopment project to give a new identity to the ‘power corridor’ of India.
The plan envisages the construction of a new parliament, prime minister and vice-president’s residences along with 10 building blocks that will accommodate all government ministries and departments. The project, which is estimated to be completed by 2024, is being executed by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
WHY DO WE NEED A NEW PARLIAMENT ?
The most significant aspect of the project is the construction of a new parliament building. There are several reasons for needing a new building to house the two houses of the parliament. The most important one is, the impending expansion of the size of the parliament. Due to the increased population, which have almost quadrupled since independence, there is a need to increase the number of Lok Sabha constituencies through delimitation.
According to the original plan, although the number of Lok Sabha members remain constant, the number of MPs in states were to be changed every 10 years to reflect the population change. This change was to ensure that every MP will represent an equal number of citizens. But when the govt of India adopted a policy of population control in the 1970s, it posed a problem. If the number of seats was to be re-allocated to states according to population, states that failed to control population growth would be rewarded with more seats, while states that were successful in population control programs would be punished with lesser seats. This had also led to a North-South conflict, as Southern states were more successful in controlling population compared to Northern states.
Due to this anomaly, the number of Lok Sabha constituencies was frozen from 1976 up to 2001. When this 25-year term was over, it was again pushed back by 25 years, and now the next delimitation exercise is scheduled for 2026, which is fast approaching. With a 50 year-long freeze on the number of MPs, it is expected that it is not going to be postponed one more time. The number of states and the Indian population has increased a lot since 1976, and there is an urgent need to increase the number of Lok Sabha members so that each MP represents a manageable size of the population. It is speculated that the size of the Lok Sabha will be increased to more than 800 from the current strength of 543.
But there is a big problem before the Lok Sabha strength can be increased, the size of the Lok Sabha Hall in the Parliament House. There are only 552 seats in the current house, with no scope for adding any new seats. In fact, the wall on the back of Lok Sabha was already taken down, and the corridor next to it was included the Lok Sabha Hall to create more space for additional chairs for the MPs. Therefore, the strength of the Lok Sabha can’t be increased without creating space to accommodate all the MPs.
Similarly, the central hall of the parliament used to hold joint sessions, actually does not have enough seats for the MPs of both houses. The Central Hall has around 430 seats, less than the size of Lok Sabha. During joint sessions, temporary chairs are placed on the aisles so that all the members can sit. Certainly not a dignified scene for the parliament of the largest democracy of the world.
The Central Hall also serves as the lounge of the parliament, as the building does not have any dedicated lounge for the members to spend their time outside session hours. Notably, a lounge is not just a place for passing free time, it is also a place where informal discussions take place, networks are built etc. It is a very important place for discussing bills in an informal setting.
The sitting arrangement in all the houses in parliament are of bench type, with long benches as one move towards the back of the house. This means, when members enter or exit their place, they have to pass over other members sitting on the same bench. The members also don’t have any desks in front of them, except for the first two rows. From the third row onwards, microphones and voting panels are actually fitted on the backrests of the benches in front of the respecting benches. This is a very clumsy arrangement and does not offer any place for the members to keep their documents and other personal belongings.
Several newly built assembly houses in the country have sitting arrangements with two members per seat, with proper desks and tables. Even many schools and colleges in the country have abandoned benches and introduced single and twin sitting arrangements, but our Parliamentarians still seat on long benches with no desk at all. The infrastructure of the parliament was also antiqued, as they were added at various times as and when required. It has microphones that can’t be switched off, a very old electronic voting system etc. Although the parliament building looks magnificent from the outside, the same is not true about its inside. Due to drilling holes in the walls to run electrical and telecommunication lines, water and sewage pipes, air-conditioning ducts etc, it all looks a mess from inside. Such drillings have also weakened the structure a lot.
Due to these reasons, a pressing need was felt to construct a new parliament building. Once the new building is constructed, the old one will be retrofitted and retained as a heritage building. Some functions of the parliament will remain in this building after adequate improvements are made. This includes the library, the parliamentary committee rooms etc.
The second part of the central vista project is the central secretariat, to house the offices of all ministries in one location. At present, the North Block and South Block houses some ministries, while several other buildings added later in the area host several other ministries. But despite that, a large number of ministry offices are located outside the central vista area, scattered across the city of Delhi. Out of the 51 ministries of the union govt, which have around 51,000 employees, 22 ministries are located inside central vista, with around 41,000 employees.
The remaining ministries and their around 10,000 employees are located outside this area. This causes lots of movement in the city contributing to traffic and also causes waste of time in inter-ministerial works. A large number of offices outside Central Vista are located in rented places. According to govt sources, an amount of around Rs 1000 crore is paid every year for the rents of ministry offices in private buildings. This cost is one of the major reasons for the Central Secretariate project. The Central Vista area also houses several establishments that are not needed in the area. There are army barracks and defence offices where around 9000 defence personnel work.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS PROJECT.
- The new Parliament Building Complex, which will be triangular in shape, will spread over 64,500 square metres
- The new Parliament building is described as the pivot of the Central Vista project design.
- It is to be much bigger than the existing Parliament building and will be able to house 1,224 Members of Parliament.
- The Lok Sabha chamber will have a seating capacity of 888 MPs while the Rajya Sabha chamber will accommodate 384 MPs.
- The increased capacity of the chambers has been provisioned for keeping in mind future increases in the number of MPs.
- Currently, the Lok Sabha has 545 MPs and the Rajya Sabha 245.
- All MPs will have separate offices in the new building.
- The new Parliament building will have a grand Constitution Hall showcasing India’s democratic heritage.
- The Constitution Hall will showcase the original copy of the Constitution
- There will be a visitors’ gallery digitally displaying India’s democratic heritage.
- The existing Parliament House building will continue to be in use by retrofitting it to provide more functional spaces for parliamentary events.
- The new Parliament building will be equipped with the latest digital interfaces as a step towards creating ‘paperless offices’.
- A monitoring committee having members from the Lok Sabha Secretariat, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the CPWD, the NDMC and architect/designer of the project will monitor the construction work.
- The new Parliament building complex is expected to be complete by 2022.
- The Central Vista project has a work completion deadline of 2024, when the next Lok Sabha election will take place
HOW THE NEW PARLIAMENT BUILDING AND CENTRAL SECRETARIATE WILL LOOK LIKE?
The new parliament building, a triangular plot next to the current building has been chosen, located to the east of it. The plot currently does not have any significant structure, apart from parking facilities, police barrack etc. As the plot is triangular, the shape of the new parliament house has been chosen as triangular for maximum use of available space.
The new parliament house will have a Lok Sabha Hall, a Rajya Sabha hall, a Lounge around a courtyard, and a central space called the Constitution gallery. It will not have a separate central hall, as the Lok Sabha will have enough sitting capacity to hold joint sessions. In the triangular building, the Lok Sabha will be at the north-west corner, Rajya Sabha will be at the south-west corner, and the lounge will be at the eastern corner. There will be offices on the outer edges of the building, surrounding the houses and the lounge.
Although the overall size of the new parliament building is almost similar to the old one, it will have much more floor space. This is because, the circular Parliament House has three large courtyards inside it, while the new one will have just a small courtyard, and most of it will be utilised for functional purposes.
Lok Sabha Hall
The new Lok Sabha Hall will be 1315 square meters in size. The Lok Sabha will have a capacity of 876 seats. But the seats are much larger in size, and they can actually hold 1350 persons. Therefore, it will easily accommodate joint sessions of the parliament, not requiring a separate hall for joint sessions. The Lok Sabha will also have more space for visitors on the gallery on the first floor. The interior of the Lok Sabha will be themed on India’s national bird peacock, and its traditional green colour will be retained. The Rajya Sabha will also be much larger in the new Parliament House.
It will have 400 seats, to accommodate more members which will be necessitated due to the creation of several new states over the last several years. The interior of the Rajya Sabha will be themed on India’s national flower lotus, and its traditional red colour will be retained. The technology will also be much improved, with modern touch interfaces on the desks to help run a paperless digital parliament. The interiors will be built while considering acoustic aspects so that viewers viewing live proceedings will have a much better sound experience.
The secretariate buildings will be rectangular Doughnut shaped buildings, with a large courtyard in the middle. The Central Secretariate project aims to place all the offices of the union govt in the Central Vista area. For this, the secretariat offices of various ministries of the government will be housed in new secretariate buildings in the area, while the defence establishments will be moved out.
This will result in a net addition of only 1000 people, as while 10000 people will come in, 9000 will go out. The Central Secretariate will include 10 identical buildings. A conference hall and the national archive will also be located in the area. The central secretariat will be a mass transit-oriented project, as an underground transit system will be constructed which will connect all the buildings with the nearby metro networks.
It will be a rectangular underground transit path around the Central Secretariate, using which a shuttle service will move people in and out of the secretariat buildings, eliminating the need for cars for a large number of people.
WHY THE CENTRAL VISTA IS BEING OPPOSED?
The NDA government has been facing stiff opposition from several quarters for going ahead with the Central Vista Redevelopment Project amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic. The NDA government allocated Rs 20,000 crore to the project in March.
At the time, the Covid-19 pandemic had begun to spread its tentacle in the country. The Opposition leaders urged the government to scrap the project and divert the funds to efforts dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
At the same time, conservationists said that the revamp will meddle with the history of the current building, which was designed by Edwin Lutyens. The 1927 building will be a lost heritage, they said.
The environmentalists claim that the Central Vista Project poses a big threat to the environment. Many civil society groups and environmental organisations have appealed to the Centre to stop the “ambitious Central Vista Redevelopment Project”, at least till the pandemic is over.
The statement was issued by 65 organisations on Wednesday, urging the central government to pause the Rs 13,450 crore project and divert all available resources towards the handling of the pandemic.
The statement stated that the Covid-19 outbreak has shown that human health and the environment are correlated.