Hardeep Puri said the heritage committee is headed by our additional secretary; the process would have been finished by now.(PTI)
Hardeep Puri said the heritage committee is headed by our additional secretary; the process would have been finished by now.(PTI)

‘Vista consultations to be made public’: Hardeep Puri

The minister spoke about the Supreme Court’s approval for the project and the concerns raised over the alleged lack of public hearings on the project and its environmental impact.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Anisha Dutta, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 10:39 AM IST

The Union government will put all details of consultations on the Central Vista redevelopment project in the public domain, minister of housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said in an interview to Anisha Dutta. The minister spoke about the Supreme Court’s approval for the project and the concerns raised over the alleged lack of public hearings on the project and its environmental impact. Edited excerpts:

Now that the Supreme Court judgment is out, will the recommendation made by the judges to go to the Heritage Conservation Committee for its approval be followed through?

That would have been done by now. The heritage committee is headed by our additional secretary; the process would have been finished by now.

Isn’t there supposed to be a public hearing?

Whatever it is, it will be done very quickly.

The thing to note about the Supreme Court judgment, it is a 600-page judgment. It has upheld our position on everything. One suggestion they have made is the requirement of installing smog towers into the design of the buildings for environmental consideration. We are happy to do that. That is why I welcomed it and said we will comply with it and observe the highest standards in the construction and environmental protection.

What about the points raised by the dissenting judge?

Insofar as the dissenting judgment also, they have upheld everything, they have said go ahead with it but they said the public consultation should have been more comprehensive. We will now put in public domain all the consultations we have had on the project. You and I may not be aware of what consultations have been done. For instance, in Parliament, we have consulted the speakers of the House; there has been a process going on from the 1985 estimates committee’ in 2012 the speaker’s officer on special duty (OSD) had written to the urban development secretary asking for a new Parliament building. It has been an ongoing process. I have consulted members of Parliament, the speaker has taken meetings and so on. Maybe it has not been on the public domain, but we will put all that up on the public domain. And certainly going forward from now, we are very happy to make the public consultation process more comprehensive, plus in another few days’ time we will have a website which will have all the information on these projects; the new Parliament and the Central Vista avenue, the government buildings and all the other aspects of it and there people can interact even more freely.

One recommendation of the verdict was also to allow four weeks’ time to people to submit objections and suggestions on the project to the heritage committee, which will then have a public consultation.

That we will go through...consultation is one thing but if somebody doesn’t agree with you, he or she doesn’t have a veto power on it. The majority opinion doesn’t uphold that. We are happy to consult and we have consulted. We will give more time, but the government is the executive which has the ability and the responsibility to take a decision...And I have said right from the beginning that we will comply with every rule in the book. We will make sure every procedure is followed. If there has been some laxity anywhere we will correct it, no issues.

Can you go ahead with the construction without the Heritage Committee’s nod?

I don’t know what the sequence is but we will follow all the protocols.

What is the next move after this? The SC has given its nod only for the new Parliament building, what about the common secretariat buildings and the other phases of the project?

Let’s be very clear, we have just got the nod on the new Parliament and we have opened the tender on the Central Vista area. We are going step by step.

Will the razing of the government buildings begin after this?

We are not going to raze anything till the new ones are ready, this is not going to be a hop, step and jump move. There is not going to be two moves. I will move from this office only when the next office is ready.

So what will be the arrangement till then?

We will stay in our existing buildings till the new buildings are ready. Some people will need to be moved. For instance some are being moved to Janpath Hotel etc temporarily but they are the ones currently housed at IGNCA {Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts}. We are in touch with all the government departments but that sequencing is being done in consultation with them.

Now, going forward will you hold a public hearing for all the remaining parts of the project?

We will have a hearing but the idea is to go ahead. Many things will be done simultaneously also but we will go through all this, yes.

One criticism was also the fact that public hearing process was bypassed and the proposal was directly sent to the EAC.

No public hearing process was bypassed. There may have been compressed processes or in some cases there may be a disagreement, if you can invite comments online etc, all that we will look at very carefully and we will get the project done.

Can you elaborate on the compressed processes?

What has happened is alright, going forward we will give notice before every segment is done and this time we will put all the information on public domain. IF we are consulting architects or town planners etc it would happen in closed rooms...what people are not understanding is it is not one big townhall meeting where 5000 people are collected. There are simultaneous processed going on we will put all that in public domain to show that even in the past consultations have been held. I have held meetings at Prasar Bharti Bhawan, we had called editors of newspapers, I’ve called few journalists, I’ve called MPs etc. We have held meetings where MPs have been invited, we have had meetings with town planners and architects. Mr Bimal Patel has met people individually. So to say that public consultations have not been held is an opinion that may be coming on the account that people are not aware about it. We must be able to document it with audios and videos. We will put all of that up.

Will Smog Towers be enough to curb pollution levels of the proposed construction that the project entails?

Let me tell you that we were planning it in any case because of the environment concerns etc...the hearings in the Supreme Court which were over many days and our people were there, we heard the argument and we were very confident. But at the end of the day if some additional ideas come we welcome them. They have recommended integrating Smog Towers in the design of the building and we will do that, whether or not that is enough is something that we will determine as we go along. If additional measures are required we will make them also.

There were concerns raised over transplantation of trees as well.

In any case we were on board for that. There is concern but we ourselves are doing. Whether it is transplanting of trees or even relocating statues, we are taking all the precautions.

There was some political backlash on relocation of the statues are these going to be shifted to the new building, what is the plan?

Each of them have their own dynamism...these are processes on which we are taking abundant caution.

What about the icon statue of Mahatma Gandhi? Will that be moved as well?

All that is being done. As you go along we have had individual discussion on each of these with MPs. It is not for me as the Minister for Housing and Urban affairs to make those announcements. Even the decision to construct the new Parliament came from the hon’ble speaker, I am merely executing agency. There will be announcements made as we go along.

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