THE NEW PARLIAMENT: HOW TO NOT SET PRIORITIES
In this article, The Vastavik goes over the new Parliament building commissioned by the Central Government, costing the taxpayer 2000 crores, and checking where the government's priorities lie in an economically and socially tumultuous time for the country.
“So long as the universe exists, dialogue must go on” ~Guru Nanak
THE PROJECT OVERVIEW
Amid a nationwide outcry, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament building at Sansad Marg in New Delhi on December 10, 2020.
Likely to be the apogee of the aspiring Rs 2000 Crore Central Vista project, the four-story building will approximately cost a whopping Rs 971 Crore. It will be built over 64,500 sq m, overlooking the 93-year-old current Parliament building which will supposedly be turned into a museum.
The new building will be triangular in shape, which the architect Bimal Patel says is a reference to “sacred geometries in various regions and cultures of India”. Its interiors will have three national symbols as its themes- the lotus, the peacock, and the banyan tree. The new Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha halls will have increased seating capacities (888 and 384 seats, respectively) anticipating an expanded Parliament, ending a 25-year-old freeze on increasing state-wise distribution of seats in 2026.
Mr. Patel adds, "In the Lok Sabha chamber, we have used the national bird (peacock) as the theme. In the Rajya Sabha, we have used the national flower (lotus) and in the central lounge we have used the national tree (banyan)”.The ceilings of the building will have fresco paintings, and the interior walls will have inscriptions of shlokas in order to retain the characteristics of the existing building.
The building will be equipped with modern audio-visual communication systems and will house committee rooms, offices of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Lok Sabha Secretariat, and Rajya Sabha Secretariats, as well as dining facilities and museums and exhibitions for the public. There will also be ceremonial entrances for the President, the Prime Minister, the Speakers of the two Houses, and MPs.The new parliament will also be fully wheelchair- and disabled-access friendly. It will be built by the Tata projects and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of the year 2022.
“The new Parliament will prove to be a testament to a new and Atma-nirbhar (self-reliant) Bharat”, PM Modi said.
Through the entirety of PM Modi’s duration in office, Indians have been made sufficiently aware of the BJP’s aims and one of the most recent ones is to make India self-reliant. The government’s methods to achieve this self-reliance have been noted as unconventional and even injudicious. It all comes down to setting priorities, really. Amidst a global pandemic, there’s much to repair and pay attention to.
THE FARMERS’ STRIKE
At the outset, the country today is experiencing the largest organised strike in history, by its very farmers, who are protesting the center’s neoliberal policies that they claim will threaten their livelihoods. In fact, this contention between the agitated farmers and the government over the new farm bills has risen to such enormity, that the obvious apprehensions of the farmers will most certainly lead to a prolonged standoff.
The general public and protest leaders have said that the government needs to recognise that the farmers’ demands need to be met. They will settle for nothing less than a complete repeal of the three laws. Even though they have sworn to protest peacefully, there is evidence that they are being dealt with rather violently.
The Government has repeatedly claimed that their engagements with the protesters have been completely non-violent, although witness testimonies and video evidence contradict the government’s statement. The IT cell of the Govt. has released footage that has allegedly been tampered with to show that no protestors were hurt.
Just three days before PM Modi held the “Bhoomi Pujan” for the new Parliament building, the BJP IT Cell Convener resigned stating,” the BJP IT Cell is misleading the citizens of India by sharing false news and wrong information”. He also complained that he was branded “anti-national” by his own superiors when he tried to raise farmer issues.
Besides this, we have one of the biggest ordeals that the country is currently facing, an economic recession. Although it’s the fifth of its kind, it is the first-ever quarterly recession the Indian economy has seen in history. According to data released by the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, India’s GDP fell by 23.9% in the April-June period quarter. Furthermore, the GDP contracted by 7.5% in the quarter ending September in comparison to the same period last year.
Although the government has been making several promises ever since the second lockdown ended on May 31 of this year, it is being severely condemned for not bringing them into action, in order to revive the economy as extensively. You can read more about India’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 at https://www.thevastavik.com/post/tracking-india-s-economy-post-lockdown.
Moreover, the unemployment rate in the country is sky-rocketing, thanks to the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. There have been many instances of protests across the country over the months by several communities of people and minimum-wage workers, demanding salaries that they have been denied for months on end.
The government did however launch various programs and campaigns to help sustain Indian households. Under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna, 312 billion Indian rupees were accrued and provided to around 331 million beneficiaries that included women, construction workers, farmers, and senior citizens. More aid was announced in mid-May, to mainly support small businesses through the crisis. But this too didn’t seem to prove enough to pacify the people’s needs.
One recent instance that justifies this happened on Friday, December 11 when over 1.2 lakh transport employees including drivers and conductors of the state-run bus services in Bengaluru refused to report for duty. Their major demands comprise primarily, of them being brought under the government’s payroll, provided the same privileges/incentives as government employees, and compensation of Rs 30 lakh be paid to the workers who died during Covid duty.
THE ANOMALY IN DECISION MAKING
There appears to be some kind of abstraction, a defined set of ideas, that the Modi government abides by when it comes to resolving public uproars. Its subpar efforts to govern the country based on extremist beliefs that defy the sense of secularism and inclusivity, constitute nothing but a plethora of unyielding reforms. In the same week that PM Modi faced a Bharat Bandh, a national strike in the middle of a pandemic, his idea of resolution is reduced to building a brand new set of buildings.
Even though the idea of a new building has been highly criticized by conservationists and environmentalists across several domains, PM Modi’s stance remains unwavering.
Architect AG Krishna Menon, former head of the Delhi chapter of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Culture stated that the government’s plans have been marked by a lack of transparency in the decision-making process, which trampled heritage protection laws.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the Congress spokesperson, questioned the need for a separate building when there is a severe cash crunch. He said, “the government should utilize this money to purchase ventilators and dole cash to jobless migrant laborers stuck in various parts of the country”.
The whole Central Vista project is clearly worrisome for historians and environmentalists. They have also repeatedly pointed out how the idea of the redevelopment of the Central Vista was pushed in an atmosphere of secrecy and opacity for political ends and that it sought to alter the landscape of the area and deprive citizens of open public spaces. They have raised questions about the necessity of the new structures. In fact, the Supreme Court has ordered the center to “stop all construction and ancillary activities” in the historically significant zone.
JUSTIFYING THE FURORE
Amongst many explanations why this was a poor decision made by the government, there are various factors that demean its indispensability-
Proceeding with this project will assure irrevocable damage to heritage
It will take up a large amount of recreational space that inherently belongs to the people;
The copious amount of tree-felling will reduce the green cover in the national capital;
It will raise the capital’s air pollution, which is already known to have the worst air quality index in the world, not to mention massive demolition waste that is bound to accompany;
A drastic increase in traffic congestion and so on.
But leaving aside the questions of whether this is the right time for PM Modi’s ambitious and expensive revamp, it most certainly achieves its aims to reconstruct the heart of India’s government in New Delhi to reflect his time in power. Furthermore, the increased sizes of both the houses promise a very likely increment in the Lok Sabha members, which will lead to a major change in the power within the Lok Sabha.
DUAC sits in judgment for any major change in Delhi – in terms of aesthetics, traffic, history, and cultural legacy – and they are the final arbiter. But now the chairman of DUAC is also the chairman of the Evaluation Committee which procured this winning bidder.
To conclude, the public’s outrage clearly implies that the point which comes across from this project is outright heedlessness and incompetency on behalf of the government. The sheer condemnation by the people puts forth the inference, that there is not the slightest implication of it being aware of what works in the best interest of the people it governs, what use to put the taxpayers’ money to, let alone its capacity to ensure fiducial governance.