The Rashtrapati Bhavan at the western end of Rajpath, which the government is seeking to remodel.(Mint)
The Rashtrapati Bhavan at the western end of Rajpath, which the government is seeking to remodel.(Mint)

Central Vista panel gives nod for project as external members raise concerns

The minutes of the meeting issued on Thursday said a request from the external members to put off the meeting because of the Covid-19 lockdown was overruled in view of the project’s importance for the national interest.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Anisha Dutta
UPDATED ON MAY 01, 2020 12:00 PM IST

The Central Vista Committee, a special advisory group for the controversial project, has given its nod for the new Parliament building even as a request from the panel’s external members for postponement of a meeting wasn’t considered on grounds of national interest.

The fifth meeting, chaired by the CVC on April 23 via video conference, was attended by government officials, including five members from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), two from HCP design, the firm chosen for designing the project, and one member each from the housing and urban affairs ministry, the environment ministry, the town and country planning organisation, and the Delhi Development Authority.

The minutes of the meeting issued on Thursday said a request from the external members to put off the meeting because of the Covid-19 lockdown was overruled in view of the project’s importance for the national interest.

“It is placed for record herewith that some members, through email, expressed their inability to join the meeting on the grounds of travel restrictions in view of Covid-19 and owing to lack of technical capacity at their end to join online web-based conference facility,” the minutes said.

“Also submitted that being senior citizens and also on medical grounds they are house bound due to lockdown in place in Delhi. In view of the above they requested postponement of the meeting. However, keeping in view the importance of the project in nation’s interest and time scale for its implementation, the meeting was held as per issued meeting notice.”

The minutes further stated there was “no objection” from the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), with suggestions that features of the proposed Parliament building be in sync with the existing Parliament.

Balbir Verma, a member of the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), said: “They went ahead without any external member in attendance. It includes two members from the Institute of Town Planners (ITP) and two from the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA). Only government officials were there.

“This is clearly a conflict of interest. Even the Supreme Court on Thursday said ‘there is no hurry to hear the matter on Central Vista’. Then what was the urgency in holding this meeting despite our requests to postpone it? We had several concerns, we had informed adequate arrangements should be made for us to attend but we got a notice on April 21 that the meeting will be held.”

Verma added, “A project of this magnitude must be heard by all parties of the committee. The party involved in its implementation and sanctioning it cannot be the only one to clear it, which is why external members are formed, otherwise it is a conflict of interest. The advisory group was formed in 1962 to advise on projects of this magnitude. People must be present to provide their suggestions or objections.”

The environment nod for the project is still awaited. The Centre has sent a revised application for environment clearance for the new Parliament building to the environment ministry, after the issue was deferred last month by the expert appraisal committee (EAC) on infrastructure, Hindustan Times had reported on April 13.

The EAC held a meeting on April 22.

In an application, the Union housing and urban affairs ministry’s construction arm, the CPWD, said the project cost for the new Parliament building has increased from Rs 776 crore to Rs 922 crore “due to changes in specifications which have been approved after the application submission”.

Hindustan Times had also reported on March 9 that the Centre’s original application for environmental clearance for the new Parliament complex had been deferred by the Union environment ministry.

The EAC on infrastructure had met on February 25 to review the CPWD’s proposal seeking green clearance for the building. The EAC cited pending court cases related to the project as one of the reasons for deferring the application.

The EAC also noted the project would provide a “larger Parliament building for the nation for better functioning of the legislature” but added the CPWD needs to meet a slew of conditions before the proposal could be reconsidered.

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