An Open Letter on the Central Vista Project

17 May 2020

Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi

Honourable Housing and Urban Affairs Minister of India, Shri Hardeep Singh Puri

We are a group of retired civil servants belonging to the All-India and Central Services from all over India. As a group, we do not subscribe to any particular political ideology but focus upon issues that have a bearing upon the Indian Constitution and issues of democracy.

We are writing this letter to express our grave concerns about the Central Vista Redevelopment Project currently planned in the most iconic heritage precinct of New Delhi. The preliminaries for the execution of the first building among many in this area, viz. the new Parliament building have already been obtained as seen in the national news. This, despite widespread, and very relevant opposition from the public and innumerable flaws in the selection procedure.

India and its capital Delhi are the proud possessors of this remarkable, historical precinct, known as the Central Vista, built during the British Raj, but nurtured, savoured and celebrated largely in the post-Independence era. Any interventions to change this area would need to be mindful of this history. The Central Vista area has been accorded Grade 1 heritage status under the extant Unified Building Bye Laws of Delhi. Construction and redesign on the scale planned in the redevelopment project will significantly affect the heritage nature of this precinct, and destroy it irrevocably.

The redevelopment planned will, moreover cause severe environmental damage. This precinct is at the core of the congested capital of Delhi, and acts as the lungs of the city, with its dense mature tree canopies serving as a repository of bio diversity and the vast lawns of the Vista as a watershed for the city between the Ridge and the Yamuna. Constructing a large number of multi-storeyed office buildings, with basements, in this open area will create congestion and irreversibly change and damage the environment. Delhi already suffers from enormous environmental pollution. To plan something which will increase this pollution many, many times, not merely during the construction phase but also subsequently, is clearly a thoughtless and irresponsible act.

A third purpose that the Central Vista serves at present is as a recreational space for the whole city. Families throng the area on summer nights to sit around in the open air and  enjoy the occasional icecream – innocent and inexpensive pleasures which they will be deprived of once the Vista’s character undergoes a change. One must realise that open spaces which are gated or surrounded by government office buildings are not the same as public open spaces where citizens are free to carry out routine activities of recreation and celebration or even of peaceful protest. Governments hold public land in a fiduciary capacity and large scale changes based on flawed perceptions should not have place in a democratic country.

There is a great deal wrong with the conceptualization of the project. Rather than establishing the necessity of the project with sound prior studies on environmental and technical parameters, this project began, if reports are to be believed, because of a superstitious belief that the present Parliament building is ‘unlucky’, as well as with the thought of leaving a particular government and its leader’s impress on the architecture of Delhi. There was no Parliamentary debate or discussion that preceded the decisions taken. Moreover, the redevelopment plans were not substantiated by any public consultation or expert review. Instead a hastily drafted and inappropriate tender was rushed through in record time to select an architectural firm in what was an extremely flawed process.  The selected architectural firm appears to have been given carte blanche to make whatever changes it wishes, with all government departments seemingly mandated to do whatever is required to enable the firm’s actions. The selection of the firm and the processes employed to do so leave a lot of questions unanswered.  It is also pertinent to note that there has been no accessible explicit exhibition of the scheme drawings, data or preceding studies for domain experts or common citizens to understand what exactly is planned in this very important public space. This goes against all democratic norms.

One of the premises on which the proposal is founded is the construction of an all new Parliament adjoining the iconic old Parliament in anticipation of the delimitation, stating as a reason the supposedly antiquated nature of its present premises, which need renovation and updating. A larger parliament building to accommodate a larger number of MPs (in view of the increase in population) is itself questionable because the population is projected to decrease post 2061as borne out by the Economic Survey indicating declining fertility rates in several States. Moreover, constructing a second Parliament building in close proximity to the existing one would diminish the existing Parliament building and might even endanger its foundations. The land use of the area on which the new Parliament building is proposed to be constructed was changed by the DDA after conducting a perfunctory hearing into a very large number of objections made by the public. Preliminary studies have shown that the existing Parliament can be repurposed to meet the requirement of expansion and modernization. Indeed, this is the norm for all heritage structures including Parliament buildings all over the world. Surely our Parliament deserves the same respect.  No Heritage Assessment Analysis has been done for any of the valuable buildings proposed to be either demolished or re-purposed.

A premise on which the redevelopment of Central Vista is based, appears to be the necessity to concentrate offices of the Central Government in one place. This is against the basic tenets of the Master Plan of Delhi which stipulates that no new offices should be built in New Delhi and that efforts should be made to decongest it. It is also out of sync with the maxim of ‘less government, more governance’, which the present government had in its manifesto.

Though much of the plan is shrouded in secrecy, it is learnt that the proposal also calls for the demolition of four Bhawans built in the 1960s, the iconic National Museum, Vigyan Bhawan, the fairly recently built IGNCA, and the very new and expensive Ministry of External Affairs buildings. Other than the value, both monetary and symbolic embedded in these buildings, this flies in the face of the principles of conservation and the basic tenets of sustainability, Some of these buildings, moreover, and the National Archives to which additions impermissible as per extant rules are planned, are repositories of artefactual and documentary cultural heritage which would be gravely endangered in the large scale project so casually proposed.

Eminent professional bodies like the Council of Architecture (COA), the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the Institute of Urban Designers India (IUDI), and the Indian Society of Landscape Architects (ISOLA) have written numerous letters with sound and detailed advice on various aspects of the redesign plan to the Minister of Housing & Urban Affairs. Unfortunately, these letters have been ignored and even replies to these letters have not been forthcoming. If the institutions meant to safeguard the rights and well-being of people in a democratic country can be so arbitrarily ignored, can India still claim to be a democracy?

It is sad to note that approvals of empowered supervisory bodies like the Environmental Assessment Committee of the Ministry of Environment and the Central Vista Committee have been pushed through in great haste at meetings convened at short notice while the country is in lockdown due to the Covid 19 epidemic, and despite the absence of private members who expressed their inability to attend and advised waiting till the nation returned to normalcy. The clearances are being given despite the matters being sub judice. These bodies have, unfortunately, been reduced to mere rubber stamps with notes of dissent not even recorded.

Finally, in the post Covid 19 scenario, when enormous funds are required for strengthening the public health system, to provide sustenance to people and to rebuild the economy, taking up a proposal to redesign the entire Central Vista at a cost of at least Rs 20000 crores, a figure likely to escalate significantly, seems particularly irresponsible. It seems like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

We strongly believe that this project needs to be stopped forthwith for the multiple and complex reasons we have mentioned above. We appeal to the government to see the fallacy in going ahead with this project and to issue the necessary notifications forthwith to stop the work from going ahead.

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

1. Anita Agnihotri IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Social Justice Empowerment, GoI
2. V.S. Ailawadi IAS (Retd.) Former Vice Chairman, Delhi Development Authority
3. Shafi Alam IPS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Crime Records Bureau, GoI
4. K. Saleem Ali IPS (Retd.) Former Special Director, CBI, GoI
5. S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
6. Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
7. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
8. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
9. Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
10. Aurobindo Behera IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue,

Govt. of Odisha

11. Madhu Bhaduri IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
12. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
13. Rachel Chatterjee IAS (Retd.) Former Special Chief Secretary,

Agriculture, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh

14. Tishyarakshit Chatterjee IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Environment & Forests, GoI
15. Anna Dani IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
16. Vibha Puri Das IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
17. P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
18. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary,Govt. of Haryana
19. Sushil Dubey IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
20. K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
21. Arif Ghauri IRS (Retd.) Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on

deputation)

22. Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
23. Suresh K. Goel IFS (Retd.) Former Director General, Indian

Council of Cultural Relations, GoI

24. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of

Environment & Forests, GoI

25. Ravi Vira Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
26. Kamal Jaswal IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of

Information Technology, GoI

27. K. John Koshy IAS (Retd.) Former State Chief Information Commissioner, West Bengal
28. Ajai Kumar Indian Forest Service

(Retd.)

Former Director, Ministry of

Agriculture, GoI

29. Sudhir Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Central

Administrative Tribunal

30. P.K. Lahiri IAS (Retd.) Former Executive Director, Asian

Development Bank

31. Subodh Lal IPoS

(Resigned)

Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
32. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
33. Amitabh Mathur IPS (Retd.) Former Director, Aviation Research Centre and Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
34. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
35. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS

(Resigned)

GoI
36. Avinash Mohananey IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim
37. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal

 

38. Nagalsamy IA&AS

(Retd.)

Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
39. P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
40. Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
41. Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
42. R. Poornalingam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI
43. C. Babu Rajeev IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI
44. Julio Ribeiro IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to

Romania

45. Aruna Roy IAS

(Resigned)

 
46. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
47. S. Satyabhama IAS (Retd.) Former Chairperson, National Seeds

Corporation, GoI

48. A. Selvaraj IRS (Retd.) Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
49. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
50. Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
51. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and

Estonia

52. Navrekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
53. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
54. Tirlochan Singh IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI
55. Jawhar Sircar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
56. Narendra Sisodia IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
57. Parveen Talha IRS (Retd.) Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
58. Thanksy Thekkekera IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt.

of Maharashtra

59. P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
60. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir

 

 

7 thoughts on “An Open Letter on the Central Vista Project

  1. aruna rodrigues

    Thank you on behalf of us citizens of India for this plain-speaking, cogent reply and the painstaking work that has gone into it. This will of course assist us with inputs into our own (CSOs) reply to the PM and MoEF.

    Like

  2. வித்யா

    I strongly express my opposition towards this EIA 2020 amendments. I even more strongly recommend that any scale project done on the land or air be properly scrutinised . I thank you so much for this clear explanation. I now understand what is happening around me and be vigilant. I salute you all for this work. Let’s march forward.

    Like

    1. KAYALVIZHI

      I honestly thank you all spoken behalf of us Indian citizens.
      I strongly opposed this EIA 2020 amendments. All the valuable points already pointed out by our behalf.
      Please think about the moral values.
      Our natural resources is our Mother Nature instead of guarding her we are destroying her in the name of development.
      We need a peaceful clean environment to live for our future generation.
      Our ancestors thought the world how to live with the nature all over the world is looking into it and trying turn towards our olden path but we are going on the opposite side. Do whatever is good for our nature and people. Jai Hind 🇮🇳

      Like

  3. Dr.ASOK KUMAR GHOSH

    The points and feelings expressed in the letter are very relevant the time has come for a detailed time bound appraisal of the EIAs & EMPs prepared during last 30 Years . The various aspects which need evaluation are collection of data, availability of trained manpower and their involvement in preparation of EIA & EMP. The consultancy fees to be paid to the organisations also need appraisal. Data Collection & Public Hearing should be extensively Videographed .
    A robust research & development organization should monitor the Biodiversity, forest and Hydrosociological aspects and the report should be a part of EIA & EMP.

    Like

  4. Pingback: Critical Analysis of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Draft, 2020 - Indian Law Portal

  5. Pingback: Environment Impact Assessment (Draft Notification 2020) | Legally Rooted India

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