Central Vista project: Environment ministry clears way for new Parliament building
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC)’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) has recommended granting of green clearance to the “expansion and renovation” of the existing Parliament building.
The new Parliament building is a part of the government’s grandiose Central Vista project, which involves building a new complex on a plot adjacent to the existing structure at an estimated cost of Rs 922 crore.
The total area involved in building and renovation is 21.25 acres, built-up area of 1,09,940 square metres and will require transplanting of 233 trees.
The contentious project has been widely criticised by urban planners and civil society groups for spending hundreds of crores on renovating the heritage structure during an unprecedented economic slowdown triggered by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
They had also raised other concerns as well. They have questioned the reason behind breaking Central Vista, a single development project, into parts, as doubts have been raised whether this has been done to obtain environmental clearance.
The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) had listed the Parliament building as an “individual project” in the EIA documents. It had also stated that there are no “interlinked projects”, which LokPATH (people for Appropriate Transformation of Habitat), a collective of urban development experts that are reviewing decisions related to the Central Vista project, has dubbed factually incorrect.
The EAC minutes of its meetings, held between April 22 and 24 and published on the ministry’s Parivesh website, stated that the Parliament building has been cleared with certain conditions.
One of the conditions is the outcome of a special leave petition (SLP) pending before the Supreme Court (SC).
The apex court is hearing two petitions filed by citizens against the way the public hearing was conducted to facilitate the project and challenging the legal validity of the land-use change process.
In March, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had changed the land-use of the 9.5-acre plot from “recreational” to “Parliament”.
The EAC minutes address concerns raised by LokPATH and other civil society groups by answering each of the concerns highlighted by them.
For example, civil society groups had said that the Indian Parliament is structurally a part of the composite notified heritage precinct, the Central Vista.
“The application completely disregards the historical, cultural and social importance of the existing Parliament by treating its ‘expansion and renovation’ as any other regular construction project,” they had argued.
In response, the EAC stated: “The project proponents are aware of the heritage value of the Parliament Building. It is because of the need to protect its heritage value, besides other practical aspects such as seating more members for the future and providing them with necessary infrastructure, that the project has been conceived.”
The other concern raised by citizens is that the Parliament building application is being projected as a stand-alone project when it is a part of the larger Central Vista project, which also ignores the cumulative impacts of the project.
The EAC has argued that integrated and inter-related projects, as referred to in the ministry’s official memorandum, are that without which the functional outcome of the proposed project cannot be achieved and that is not the case for the units of the Central Vista project.
Experts said it was a “fait accompli” situation, where the land-use was changed by the DDA and clearance has been recommended even before the outcome of the SC case.
“All the concerns of building-by-building approach to impact assessment of the Central Vista project remain. The cumulative impacts of the entire Central Vista redevelopment over a much larger area are different from that of one new Parliament building. What gets even more questionable today is that the new Parliament building, which is estimated to cost Rs 922 crore, is approved when the country is facing a severe economic, humanitarian and environmental crisis because of Covid-19,” said Kanchi Kohli, a legal researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.