Urban experts seek public hearing, environment impact assessment on Central Vista
Cumulative impact assessment and a public hearing are a must for the Central Vista redevelopment plan, a collective of about 300 architects, environmentalists and urban designers have said in a letter to union environment minister Prakash Javadekar.
The letter comes days after the union ministry housing and urban affairs’ construction arm, the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) sought environmental clearance to build a new Parliament building.
The letter, written by a collective of urban planners and environmentalists, LokPATH, a copy of which has been seen by Hindustan Times, alleges that the Centre’s report categorising it in the ‘individual category 8 (A) of building and construction projects’ violates environment ministry rules for ‘consideration of integrated and interrelated projects for grant of environmental clearance’.
The CPWD has sought clearance for one component of the Central Vista project—the expansion and renovation of the existing Parliament building —from the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on Infrastructure.
”We are disappointed that a massive redevelopment that impacts heritage, public space and the environment is being considered as a routine building and a construction project, without full disclosure, cumulative impact assessments of all the integrated components and no public hearing,” it said.
The ministry of housing and urban affairs did not respond to requests for a comment.
According to norms, environment clearance is necessary for a few categories of construction projects and area development projects under Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) norms. The EIA Notification, 2006, mandates prior environmental clearance for new projects or activities, including expansion or modernisation of existing projects listed in its schedule. The ‘A’ category projects, including expansion and modernisation of existing projects, require prior environmental clearance from the central government in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on the recommendations of an EAC.
The Centre estimates the new building will cost about Rs 770 crore and 260 days to construct, and lead to the cutting down of 194 trees.
The letter states that the Centre’s application treats the expansion of Parliament as a stand-alone project despite being a part of the proposed redevelopment of the Central Vista. “The redevelopment of Central Vista has been publicised as one project by the MoHUA. The consultancy for the entire redevelopment project was contracted to one consultant, HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd., in October 2019. Yet the Parliament expansion is being treated as a stand-alone project for the purposes of environmental clearance,” it said.
The letter says CPWD’s claim identifying the project as belonging to category 8 (A) is “misleading and deliberately underplays the impact of the project by singling out specific components of an integrated project.” It says the category allows the application to be exempt from submitting a detailed EIA and a public hearing.
“...We would like to bring to your attention that while exemptions exist in the EIA Notification, 2006, the law does not summarily prohibit the need to conduct public hearing/ consultation in cases where projects involve significant environmental and social impact,” the letter says.
It says a precedent has been set in an instance when the environment ministry directed a public hearing to be carried out for the proposed Peddar Road Flyover in Mumbai, which was also categorised under ‘category 8’ of the schedule of projects, same as the present application for Parliament’s expansion.
“In the case of the Peddar Road Flyover, the ministry responded to the concerns of citizens and directed that the public hearing be conducted to ascertain citizen’s views on the project,” it said.
LokPATH alleged that the Centre’s application for Parliament expansion contains false and misleading information. It urged the environment ministry to direct the EAC to reject the current proposal in its entirety, direct CPWD to disclose all the components of the integrated project and conduct a cumulative environmental impact assessment and conduct a public hearing based on “full information disclosure and ensuring maximum participation. “
The Hindustan Times, on January 19, had reported about a new Lok Sabha central hall big enough to house 900 Members of Parliament (MPs), and flexible enough to house up to 1,350 MPs for a joint Parliament session. This will be the centre-piece of the Central Vista redevelopment plan that has a deadline of 2024. The new Parliament complex, which has an earlier deadline of 2022, will be among the first plans to be finalised and tendered out, perhaps in the first half of this year itself.