Article by Advait Nisal
Let us say you are the finance minister of the country and you have a budget of 100 crores. You have allocated 50 crores to the defense ministry, 20 crores to the health ministry, and the remaining 30 crores to the ministry of housing and urban affairs. Suddenly there is an unforeseen rise in the number of covid cases in the country. Now the most coherent thing to do for you as the finance minister would be to divert the allocations from other ministries to the health ministry to battle the rise in cases. But guess what, that’s not how government spending works! Government spending is a complex and nuanced process that is not as simple as it may seem. In this article, we would be breaking down such claims being made on the Central Vista project and understanding the reasons why the Delhi High Court considers it to be of “national importance.”
The Central Vista Redevelopment project is an ambitious project by the central government to redevelop a 3.2 km stretch called the Central Vista that lies in the heart of Lutyens Delhi. A lot of hue and cry was observed over its continuity despite the pandemic by the opposition parties and as a result of which was a petition being filed in the Delhi High Court against its construction. The petitioners alleged that the construction did not qualify as “essential” and was a violation of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s (DDMA) orders issued in April. Paragraph 8 of the order prohibited the working of construction sites except those which had workers living on site. The workers involved in the Central Vista redevelopment had been staying on site right from the beginning and therefore, this petition was bound to be dismissed at the very onset. The High Court did not shy away from calling it a motivated petition, which again shows the futility of how the plea had no basis and ground in the first place.
Having said that, let us address the elephant in the room, why is the central vista project continuing despite the ongoing pandemic. Why are funds being allocated to this project when covid fatalities are increasing across the nation. Well, the answer is that lack of funds is not an issue for the mismanagement of the covid situation in the country! 35000 crores have been already allocated for the vaccines. PM cares fund has roughly 1 billion dollars. 200 crores from the PM cares fund have already been utilized for building oxygen plants across the country. So, if funding is not the problem, then what is? Lack of federal harmony in the Indian government leads to poor management of resources and a disturbing amount of wastage of resources. A problem is the supply chain can only be solved with the proper administration of these funds and not an increase in the funds. This administration is only possible with cooperation from the central and state governments, which is, unfortunately, lacking at the moment. Government spending does not mean taking away funds allocated for one cause and diverting it to the most important one. Most ministries have their allocated budgets and they function on these funds. With regards to the Central Vista project funding, money is not taken from covid funds to build the new parliament building. There are already existing funds for covid, Central Vista project funding is distinct and separate from the covid funding. It is not an either-or situation.
Another important contention by the opposition parties is that national importance cannot be attributed to the project. Let us see why this claim falls flat on its face. The current parliament building is located in seismic zone 2 which makes it vulnerable to tremors. The Central Vista project will shift it to seismic zone 4 which makes it relatively safer. Buildings housing the ministries are ill-equipped to meet even the basic fire and earthquake safety norms and require regular upgrades involving recurring expenses to the tune of Rs.50 crores annually. An additional 1000 crores are spent on rental spaces to accommodate the offices of various ministries annually. The Central Hall is already insufficient to accommodate all of the MPs and with the delimitation exercise coming up in 2026, the number of MPs will be increased from 552 to over 800. There would be no space for additional MPs. Our already slouching MPs do not need an additional reason of weak infrastructure to further delay the work that they have already been delaying. Let us not feed the rabbit the carrots it does not deserve!
Therefore, economic spending during the pandemic on this project is of utmost importance. In general, during any crisis, to keep the economy running, the government must continue its spending on infrastructure. This project also generates large-scale employment for those stranded workers after the gruesome pandemic. These workers are working under all the safety precautions on the site. 900 out of roughly 1300 workers on site have already been vaccinated. This project is not just a stunt by the government as the opposition claims. It was rather a proposal brought out by the Congress government in 2012. Members of the INC like Shashi Tharoor have often advocated for rebuilding the Indian parliament building. The Maharashtra government which claimed to be against this project is also conveniently carrying out the building of an MLA hostel worth 900 crores. The 60 odd diplomats who signed the letter which vouched for the stoppage of construction of this project have seemed to have signed it rather blindly. “This project began, if reports are to be believed, because of a superstitious belief that the present Parliament building is ‘unlucky’, as well as with the thought of leaving a particular government and its leader’s impression on the architecture of Delhi…” are some of the contents of the letter. What reports exactly point at this superstition and to even consider this precarious claim is an act of deliberate ignorance in my opinion. Also, if this building is unlucky for the government at the center, and yet they manage to win a massive majority consecutively, I wonder what fortunes the new building might bring!
In conclusion, I believe that the Central Vista project should genuinely not be mistaken as futile funding in the backdrop of the upcoming covid crisis. Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs in his press conference held recently, very eloquently quashed all the baseless claims made by those who were critically misinformed on the issue. He even clarified that the alleged 20,000 crore figure that was floating across the internet which was the total expense for the project is also false. As of now, only 1300 crores is allocated for this project and further expenses shall be made public as and when they come up. Therefore, we must realize that during the pandemic, developmental projects are never to be contained, the pandemic must be met with equal rigor from the government through its economic activities. It is not us vs the government in the pandemic, it is us vs the virus. It is time we bring about the harmony our forefathers envisioned and come out of this stronger.