CPWD puts up boards banning photography, curbs public entry at Central Vista site
The construction arm of the government Central Public Works Department has installed boards prohibiting photography or video recording and restricted the entry of public at the construction site for the Central Vista, which includes most of the Rajpath stretch.
The boards installed on the site also include the name of construction firm Shapoorji Pallonji. Last week, citizens and activists shared pictures on social media of the dug-up Rajpath stretch lamenting the imminent loss of the heritage jamun trees, some around 100 years old.
The boards came up over the weekend.
A CPWD spokesperson, responding to a query on why the boards were installed said his organiation “will not comment on the matter.” The ministry of housing and urban affairs but did not respond to queries seeking comment. A spokesperson for Shapoorji Pallonji declined comment.
Hindustan Times, on May 7 reported that the list of trees that will be removed for the project will include at least 20 Jamun trees that are nearly 100 years old that were planted as part of the original plan of Lutyens’ Delhi in the 1920s.
Environment activists said they think the boards came up on the barricades of the India Gate lawns around the weekend. It was not just the prohibitory signage but on Wednesday, security personnel were also seen stopping people from even standing across the barricades for more than a few minutes, citing “security protocol”.
To be sure, many construction sites do prohibit entry of people indiscriminately, especially because of safety concerns. However, the bit about the “security protocol” is unclear because the Central government told the Delhi High Court on 11 May, that the ongoing work in and around Rajpath and India Gate “is not what is colloquially referred to as “the Central Vista project” (which includes Parliament, refurbishment of North Block, South Block, construction of new offices for central government i.e Common Central Secretariat, Central conference facilities, etc)...but limited to the redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue (i.e, both sides of Rajpath, where Republic Day celebrations are held annually.” It wasnt on to add that the scope of work was “providing public ameneties like toilet blocks, paths, parking...”, “pedestrian underpasses’, and “improvement of canals, bridges, lawns, lights....”
Environment activist Rajeev Suri, who was a petitioner in at least five cases highlighting the lapses and violations in the Central Vista project, said that the signage has only reiterated the “government’s brazenness to carry on with the project while the country was battling a pandemic”.
“They (the government) will carry on with this project, no matter the cost. This only shows that while the nation is battling a pandemic, where bodies are floating in rivers, your priority is to build the Central Vista. To make things worse you have also left no transparency in the entire process,” said Suri.
Addressing concerns over the project union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Puri In a series of Tweets on May 8 said: “Do not believe in fake photos & canards about ongoing work at Central Vista Avenue. No jamun trees have been removed. Only few trees will be transplanted in entire project. Overall green cover will increase. Defining elements of built heritage like lamp posts etc will be restored.”
He added that the transformed Central Vista will be a “world class” public space in the heart of national capital. “The project is progressing on schedule. With more public space, landscaping & modern amenities, it will eventually be something every Indian will be proud of,” he tweeted.
The Shapoorji Pallonji Group in January emerged as the lowest bidder for the Centre’s tender for the redevelopment and restructuring of the Central Vista Avenue after it quoted a financial bid of ₹477 crore, nearly 5% lower than the estimated cost of the project pegged at ₹502 crore. This is the second phase of redevelopment after Tata Projects Limited was tasked with the construction of the new Parliament complex on September 29, 2020.
The tender for the redevelopment of the Central Vista avenue also mandates the firms to maintain it for five years from completion, and requires that the project be completed within 300 days. Work will also need to be carried out in sections to minimise the portion of the avenue that is cordoned off at any given time. “The contractor may have to execute the work in three shifts with large manpower of workers, supervisors and professional engineers,” according to the project tender document.
Work on the project continues apace despite the pandemic and the ongoing lockdown in Delhi; the work has been categorised an essential activity.
HT on May 4 reported The Vice President’s, and Prime Minister’s new residences are scheduled to be completed by May and December 2022, respectively, according to Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the nodal agency for the Central Vista Project, as the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) has granted the necessary clearance for the rest of the buildings under the plan.
The plan, being handled by the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs, involves having a new Parliament building in place by India’s 75th Independence Day in 2022, while the project, which includes constructing 11 administrative buildings to house all the government ministries, is slated to be finished by 2024.
Under the Central Vista project, the Prime Minister’s residence will be shifted behind the existing South Block, while the V-P’s residence is proposed to be relocated behind North Block.
The plan also includes razing buildings such as Shastri Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan and Krishi Bhawan that house important government ministries to build a common secretariat for roughly 70,000 central government employees who are currently located across 30 buildings.
Amid criticism for continuing the Central Vista project during the pandemic Puri on Friday attacked the Congress calling the discourse “bizzare.” The minister’s retaliation came hours after Congress MP Rahul Gandhi criticised the Modi government for executing the project, terming it a “criminal wastage”, while asking the dispensation to focus on people’s lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.