New Delhi: Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri Monday came down strongly on critics of the Central Vista project and called a group of 60 retired civil servants who had last year written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the project as “padhe likhe murkh (educated fools)”.
“These former bureaucrats, many of whom are from foreign affairs ministry, have said in their letter that if reports are to be believed, the new Parliament building is being constructed because of superstitious belief that the old building is unlucky…, yeh padhe likhe murkh hi nahin hain, they are a disgrace (they are not only educated fools, they are a disgrace),” Puri said at a press conference.
Puri said that so many letters are floating on social media that somehow he had missed this letter written by the former bureaucrats.
“Some of my officers brought to my notice today when I was preparing for the press conference. The open letter was floating in the social media but it never came to me,” Puri said.
The minister said that a false narrative is being created about the Central Vista project and people have on their own put a figure of Rs 20,000 crore to the project and are linking its construction with the pandemic.
“What is its relationship with the pandemic? From where has this Rs 20,000 crore figure come up? The total cost of the projects currently under construction — the Parliament building and the Central Vista Avenue — is around Rs 1,300-odd crores. The Parliament building will cost approximately Rs 862 crore and the Central Vista Avenue Rs 477 crore,” Puri said.
The minister said that the Centre has allocated Rs 35,000 crore for the Covid vaccination programme in the country. “If required, more will be allocated. There is enough money,” he said.
The Central Vista revamp plan, aimed at giving Delhi’s power corridor a complete makeover, will include the construction of a new triangular-shaped Parliament, a new Prime Minister’s residence, and 10 new building blocks to accommodate government offices, including Shastri Bhavan, Nirman Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan and Vayu Bhavan, among others. These buildings currently house the offices of different central ministries such as education, health, housing, agriculture, commerce, air force, among others.
Puri clarified that so far no design has been cleared for a new Prime Minister’s residence. “Construction in only two projects are underway currently — the new Parliament building and the Central Vista avenue. We are working on these two projects on a priority basis because we want them to be ready in time for India’s 75th (Independence) anniversary in 2022,” Puri said.
Reacting to critics, the minister asserted that work on the project will not stop.
‘Not a vanity project, a necessary project’
The decision to construct Parliament building was taken way back in 2012, when Meira Kumar was the Lok Sabha Speaker, Puri said. “Her officer on special duty (OSD) had written a letter to the then housing secretary that a decision had been taken that a new Parliament building should be built,” he said.
“Not only that, one of my political colleagues, Jairam Ramesh had penned an article in The Hindu newspaper in 2012 where he said that we badly need a new Parliament Building. This one is simply not functional and outdated… Now he is creating a false narrative,” said Puri.
The Central Vista project has come under attack from opposition parties and civic society, who have called for stopping it at a time when the Covid pandemic is raging in the country. They have said that the project will not only be detrimental for the city environmentally, but will also destroy some of the most historic buildings dotting Lutyens’ Delhi.
Puri, however, said Monday that none of the historic, cultural and iconic buildings will be touched in Central Vista including the North and South Block. “They will remain exactly the same,” he said.
Calling the protests against the new Parliament building and Central Vista Avenue motivated, Puri said that a new Parliament building is required because the present one has run out of space and is structurally not safe.
“When we sit we are cramped in, there is no space. The building was not made to accommodate so many people… In 2026, because of delimitation, the number of members will increase. The freeze on current numbers will be lifted in 2026. Then what will you do? Will we do bunk seating inside Parliament?” Puri said.
The minister said that it’s not a “vanity” project but a “necessary” project.
The Delhi High Court Monday also dismissed a petition challenging the Central Vista project, calling it “motivated”.
Puri also asserted that the ongoing construction work will not stop. “What do you want? There was a challenge in front of us. During the first wave we braved it with great courage. Now in the second wave, should we stop work? The construction workers who are working there, should they stop work? Conventional wisdom says you spend your way out of the crisis. You increase economic activity. These are time bound contracts. Do you think the contractors will continue paying the workers if work stops?”
The minister added that the government is taking all the necessary measures needed to ensure that the workers on site are safe and healthy.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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