Decision on new Parliament building to be announced soon by environment panel
The Union Environment Ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on constructions, townships and area development projects met on Wednesday to consider environmental clearance for various infrastructure projects including the expansion and renovation of the existing Parliament Building.
The contentious project which will cost Rs 922 crore according to estimates by the Central Public Works Department and involve transplantation of at least 233 trees from the existing site was discussed in detail by the 13-member committee but the decision cannot be shared immediately, experts said.
“The decision is not final until minutes are drafted. It will take a week. We have to hear 15 more projects tomorrow and day after also,” said T Haque, chairman of the panel over phone.
The renovation of the Parliament building is a segment in the Centre’s larger Central Vista project which includes a new Parliament house, a new Central secretariat complex for ministries, and new residences for the Prime Minister and the Vice President. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2024.
Several concerns have been raised by architects and urban planners regarding the project. One of them is that despite Central Vista being a single development project, it has been broken into parts for ease of obtaining environmental clearance. CPWD has listed the Parliament building as an “individual project” in the environment impact assessment documents. It also states that there are no “interlinked projects”.
HT had reported on February 21 that the new Parliament complex is proposed on a plot adjacent to the existing building and yet it is being considered by EAC only as a renovation project. The land use of the 9.5-acre plot has been changed from “recreational” to “Parliament” by the Delhi Development Authority last month.
DDA last December had changed the land use of a 15-acre plot from recreational to residential on Dalhousie Road near South Block where the PM’s new residence has been proposed.
LokPATH (people for Appropriate Transformation of Habitat), a collective of urban development experts and civil society members has raised these issues and asked why such a huge amount of money was being invested in the Parliament building during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As you are aware this project is not just about renovations to the existing Parliament but involves the construction of an entirely new building of an additional 65000 sq.m on a separate plot next to the present parliament,” LokPATH wrote to EAC on April 21 adding that “as per the applicant, the present cost of the project is Rs 922 crores. At a time of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to prioritise government spending for medical facilities and public health infrastructure. Since the global and Indian economies are also very fragile, it would be wasteful and cruel to allow such a project to come up when millions of fellow citizens in the agriculture, fisheries and other basic sectors are struggling to cope financially.”
On Wednesday, LokPATH again wrote to the Central Vista Committee that the approval by DDA for land use change of the area by DDA has come through when there are cases pending in courts on the matter. The land use change can alter the character of open and public use spaces and allow extensive building activity in the area, apart from restricting public access, they said.