While the whole world is grappling with an economic slowdown due to the Coronavirus, and spending a huge percentage of their GDP on social welfare and helping the poor, the Modi led government has different plans for tackling the virus. The Indian economy registered an all-time low in 45 years, with the economy coming to ruins, while the government tries to nationalize every issue to use it for the mere benefit of elections. In these burdensome times, when the salaries of government employees have been frozen, their dearness allowance has been taking away and the government planning to increase the tax and bring back the wealth tax, the Prime Minister has played another card, by replacing Prime Minister National Relief Fund with the PM Cares Fund which has failed to provide relief to the working class.
On September 2, the Central Public Works Department under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, released a tender which suggested that these heritage buildings will not stand forever. The tender stated that the common Central Secretariat and Central Vista would undergo “redevelopment…to support Prime Minister Modi’s vision of a new India”. As part of the plan, Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Puri said that while heritage structures like the Parliament House and Rashtrapati Bhawan would undergo minor alterations, the Bhawans “which are in an extremely shoddy state” would be done away with. On October 25, he said the work on the ground will start by May 2020 and is expected to finish by 2024. In a time when the economy is not even standing on its own feet, the central government has approved for the reconstruction of the central vista which will be costing a whopping 20,000 Crore Rupees, along with the other vanity projects of the government such as the Shivaji Statue (3500 Cr), Ram Statue (2500 Cr), Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train (7000 Cr).
The Central Vista consists of the Rashtrapati Bhawan, North Block, South Block, Parliament, a 3km stretch of the Rajpath, which is the powerhouse of India, where the most important decisions of Indian Hard and structural power are taken in heritage buildings. On March 20th, 2020 land for the central Vista project was approved, where a new triangular parliament building has been proposed along with a new PM house on the Rajpath. Under the project, the entire central vista will be redeveloped, where heritage buildings will be demolished and the old parliament building will be transformed into a museum, and there near the North and South block, will be the residence of the Vice President and the Supreme Leader (PM) only to boost their massive egos and strengthen their fascist administrative structure.
A plethora of questions have been raised regarding the project such as, why the bidding process was not transparent? How will the green cover be restored? Why is a public space being transformed into a political space? The money that is being used for the mere matter of reconstruction, could have transformed the entire Indian Education Structure (India doesn’t have an education ministry) and helped in the development of Healthcare facilities (1 multispeciality hospital in the NCR region costs about 150 crores). The money could also have been used for Covid-19 testing which is an all-time low in India, with only 32 tests being conducted per million people (Source: India Today). At this point, healthcare, education, and mass testing is the only possible cure to the Coronavirus, as the Lockdown in practicality is an ineffective tool to combat the virus, while the government is more interested to facilitate expenditure on its Infrastructural and Architectural flamboyant ambitions.
Some fishy details have also been found in the project, as the entire contract for the development of the Central Vista has been given to a company called HCP Design, which is the famous firm that built the Sabarmati River Front, Gujarat Secretariat and Kashi Vishwanath Corridor. The dubious aspect in this is that, in the pre-architectural bid of the Central Vista, when all the design companies urged the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), that the firm should be chosen based on an open design competition, HCP Design was the only company which did not sign the petition, which ended up getting the contract!
The government has failed to realize the timing of this project, as it is at the same time when India’s COVID Bailout Package is at 0.85% (as a % of GDP) as opposed to 16.17% (as a % of GDP) of Malaysia. This problem also comes at the time when the center owes more than 30,000 Crore Rupees to the state governments. Some reports have surfaced on the internet, which also states the center has fallen short of money and is running the administration on a shoe-string budget. Owing to the structure of the economy and the inflations the country has recorded, the cost of the project saw an 18% rise in 8 months and hence by 2024, which is the estimated finish date of the project, there will be a massive surge in the price of the project.
Another problem in the project is the pollution that the construction is going to create. Every winter, Delhi creates an atmosphere of deadly smog which causes an approximate of 80 deaths per day. The construction will even make the PM 2.5 levels go up.
The problem with the project is not only structural, but also ideological. Experts across the world have noted that when power is centralized at one point, and there is a singular cell structure of power, it becomes a clear signal of a fascist regime. Historically such architecture has been a sign of fascism, which is also referred to as fascist architecture. Sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, historians, and policy experts across the country have noted the fascists’ administrative structure of the Modi government and the fascists’ architecture being displayed with the new plan of central Vista. The Vista, which was originally designed by PM Nehru, in a style representative of democratic, liberal, and federal ideas.
According to the Prime Minister, the Central Vista is being created to celebrate the 75th Independence Day of India. What the nation wants is healthcare, education, housing, urbanization, women empowerment, equal pay, and a lot more and what the government is representing is its corporate and capitalist ideals, amid a crisis. A redevelopment plan will suit the country only when India becomes a 5 Trillion Dollar Economy (India’s GDP has been forecasted at 2% for FY21 which is a 30 year low), and when the COVID problem is completely stabilized and the economy is restructured, with massive due developments in Education and healthcare. What seems very interesting to the government is that we will be losing a major part of our history that doesn’t suit the government, such as the Bikaner House, Hyderabad House, and Krishi Bhawan. While many are of the opinion that the redevelopment plan of Central Vista is an attempt to remove colonial history, we forget that colonial history is a part of our past and by acknowledging that past it does not mean we are celebrating that past.