This write-up examines the ongoing redevelopment of the Central Vista, a 3-km long expanse between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate.
The key features of the project are as follows:-
1) Construction of a new parliament building.
2) Redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue.
3) Construction of central secretariat, central conference hall and a new building for Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).
4) New residence and office for Vice President and Prime Minister
The project was launched in 2019, to be completed by 2024. Proposals were invited from eminent India architects. It was mandated that no structure could be taller than India Gate, thereby capping the height at 42 metres. Six firms were shortlisted and the contract was awarded to HCP Design of Bimal Patel.
Separate bidding has to be carried out for different components of the project. It implies that multiple construction firms may be carrying out different tasks concurrently.
So far, contracts have been awarded for the first two components – construction of new parliament building and redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue. The government is keen that both the tasks are completed by 2022, when India celebrates seventy-five years of its Independence.
Salient Components of the Project
• New Parliament Building. It will be a four-storey triangular building with total built up area of 64,500 square metres. It can seat up to 1272 members for joint sessions. Although the estimated cost of the project was Rs 922 crores, Tata Projects won the contract with their bid of Rs 861.90 crore in September 2020. Larsen and Toubro Limited was the second lowest, having submitted a bid of Rs 865 crore. Construction work was started in January 2021 and is expected to be completed by 2022.
• Redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue. It entails construction of bridges over canals, pedestrian underpasses, broad footpaths, parking areas, underground amenities blocks, large scale stone work, green cover and horticulture. Shapoorji Pallonji made the successful bid with their quote of Rs 477.08 crore, which was nearly 5 percent less than the estimated cost. Tata Projects was the second lowest bidder with their bid of Rs 488.78 crore. Contract was awarded in January 2021 with work starting after the Republic Day Parade. This 3 km-long project has to be completed in 300 days, well before the Republic Day Parade 2022.
Central Secretariat. Presently, only 22 out of 51 ministries are housed in the existing secretariat. Rest are spread across the whole city, mostly in hired accommodation. Some ministries are split in four or five locations, mostly in private buildings that do not lend themselves to efficient office functioning. Worse, the government is paying annual rent of approximately Rs 1,000 crore for the hired office space. The new Central Secretariat, consisting of eight buildings will house all the 51 ministries, accommodating almost 35,000 employees. Exteriors of all buildings will be of red sand- stone, similar to the surrounding buildings. Interior will be of glass and steel with a solar roof. All buildings will have access to the underground metro with pedestrian subways. A central conference hall and the national archives will also form part of this project.
• New Residence for the Vice President and the Prime Minister. The residence of the Vice-President will be relocated at a plot north of the North Block. The enclave will consist of 32 buildings with a maximum height of 15 metres. Similarly, the residence and the office of the Prime Minister will be moved to a plot south of the South block. It will have ten 15-metre high buildings. Bringing them both within the Central Vista will cut down on the travel time, improve efficiency and eliminate traffic disruptions.
It is also proposed to have a national biodiversity arboretum spread over 48 acres of forested land at the back of the President’s Estate. It will be open to the public. In addition, it is expected that the project will free up to 75 acres of prime land for development as public space.
Opponents of the project have faulted the project on various counts. Here is an objective point-wise appraisal.
• Diversion of Funds during the Pandemic
It is being alleged that the funds (Rs 1,339 crore) that are being spent on the two ongoing construction projects should have been diverted to fight the pandemic. If that logic has to be followed, all infrastructure expenditure should be stopped. It needs to be recalled here that the current union budget (2021-22) has allocated Rs 1,18,101 crore to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, of which Rs 1,08,230 crore is for capital expenditure. Should all construction of highways, railways and airports be stopped? More importantly, is fight against the pandemic short of funds?
It is conveniently forgotten that governmental expenditure on infrastructure projects is considered the most prudent way to kick-start economic revival, provide employment to the jobless and give a boost to industrial activities. It is a time-tested measure. In times of drought, the erstwhile rulers used to initiate construction of new roads, canals and even buildings for creating jobs for the affected farmers. Even during the current pandemic, almost all countries have announced massive new projects to inject money in their markets for expeditious economic revival.
In any major project, ratio of labour to material cost is a function of labour-intensity and technical-sophistication of the project. As a thumb-rule, costing of the major projects is done by adding the cost of material and labour; and, applying a mark-up of approximately 30 percent to cater for General and Administrative (G&A) overheads and profit.
Let us take a look at the likely expenditure breakdown of the two contracts that have been awarded so far in the Central Vista project. It is purely an indicative calculation only to illustrate a point.
The new parliament building will be of reinforced cement concrete framed structure with a plinth height of 1.8 metre above the ground level. External cladding for façade will be with red sand-stone. The building will have high-tech smart displays and biometrics for ease of voting with an intuitive and graphical interface; digital language interpretation and recording infrastructure to produce real-time metadata; and programmable microphones that put the control of managing the house with the Speaker.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project
(Illustration Courtesy HCP Design)
As a rough calculation, the ratio between labour and material cost for the parliament building is likely to be close to 2:1. Thus, the estimated breakdown of the total project cost of Rs 862 crore could be – G&A Rs 202 crore, labour cost Rs 440 crore and material cost 220 crore.
n the case of the Central Vista project, the likely labour to material ratio is likely to be close to 4:1, as the project is highly labour intensive. Most of the work involves earth work and stone masonry. Following the above thumb-rule, the likely breakdown of the project cost of Rs 477 crore is likely to be – G&A Rs 117 crore, labour cost Rs 288 crore and material cost Rs 72 crore.
If both the contracts are added, the total expenditure will be Rs 1339 crore. Out of this amount, Rs 728 crore will be spent on payment of wages to the labour employed. In addition, substantial component of the expenditure on material (Rs 292 crore) will be consumed by manpower costs engaged in the manufacturing sector like cement, steel and glass. A significant part of the expenditure will also come back to the government in terms of GST and other levies. Even quarrying of red stone, dressing of the blocks and transportation will generate substantial jobs. Can there be a more timely measure for the welfare of the people and boosting the economy? Only the ignorant or the biased can call it wastage of funds.
• Destruction of Heritage
Many critics have accused the government of attempting to deprive Delhi of its colonial history by obliterating vestiges of the Raj. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Not a single Lutyens building is being touched. Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate will be retained in their present grand state. The old parliament building, North Block and South Block will be put to alternate use like museums.
Eleven major buildings that are proposed to be demolished were constructed during the period 1960s and 1970s. For example, Vigyan Bhavan was built in 1956. Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan was constructed in 2011. National Museum, perhaps the most important building, was built in two phases – Phase 1 in 1960 and Phase 2 in 1989.
It was amusing to see a press report that bemoaned destruction of a few lamp posts of the British era. According to the reporter, Modi government had no love for history and was hell-bent to wipe out all historical edifice. She ended her write-up by exhorting the countrymen to cry for the threatened heritage. One is sure that no street lamp-post, anywhere in the world, would have evoked such ridiculous sentiments.
Incidentally, all new buildings will have red sand stone exteriors to be in harmony with Lutyen’s vision. The fact is that all new constructions will add to the grandeur of the heritage and not degrade it. Hence, no one is erasing India’s proud history (pun intended) of colonial subjugation.
• Labour Welfare
The government is being accused of overlooking safety and welfare of the labour during the pandemic. The faultfinders have tried all tricks, including knocking at the doors of various courts, to stall the project by raising the spectre of spread of Covid-19. The government has repeatedly clarified that separate labour camps have been established and dedicated transportation arrangements have been made for their regular commutation. These assurances have failed to have any impact on the detractors. It is another matter that congregation of thousands of fake-farmers does not alarm them. The government is aware of its responsibility and is ensuring compliance of necessary protocol. To reduce site-pollution, necessary humidifying measures are being taken.
As an additional welfare measure, the government has mandated that 50 percent of the workers will need to be imparted training in skills relating to wood work, masonry, stone dressing, carving, fresco and other allied trades. The contractors are required to arrange on-site skill training for at least 30 percent of unskilled workers through reputed institutions managed or certified by the state or the Central Government. Such a step will give a huge boost to India’s mission of skill-development.
As has been seen above, the criticism has been highly motivated and lacks substance. In fact, it is malicious, both in intent and content. By terming the project as ‘Modi Mahal’, the critics have revealed their despicable character and debased mentality. Prime Minister’s new residence may not be ready by the time new elections take place. Who knows who will be its first occupant?
The question arises as to why the project is being subjected to such vitriolic attacks. There are four easily discernible reasons:-
• Only the Congress has the right to decide the contours of the Raisina Hill. It was the dynasty’s Tryst with Destiny that facilitated its rule for decades. Lutyen’s Delhi is their family’s exclusive legacy and no one should dare to tamper with it. Moreover, had the project been undertaken by the Congress, the obliging sycophants would have named all the buildings after the members of the family.
• Modi-haters cannot accept his getting credit for a project of this nature and magnitude. They do not want the future to remember him as its architect. How can he be allowed to usurp a place in India’s history?
• The opposition parties rue the fact that they failed to follow-up on the recommendations of the committee set-up by the then Speaker Meira Kumar in 2012. The committee had recommended a new parliament building. A golden opportunity to make millions was thus lost. Remember how the Commonwealth Games were milked.
• Modi-opponents know that they cannot defeat him in elections. The only option left with them is to tarnish his image by casting false aspersions and spreading misinformation. They are suffering from an incurable affliction of hatred and malice. Their inability to face Modi in elections has made them stoop so low that they do not care for the interests of the nation as well. Impotence has made them venomously spiteful.
For those who look up to the US for inspiration, here is a fact from history. President Roosevelt’s massive expenditure on federally-funded infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports, powerlines and the like) pulled the country out of the Great Depression by providing jobs to the unemployed and kick-starting the economy. To date, his ingenious masterstroke is fondly referred to as the ‘new deal for the American people’.
Finally, modernisation is an on-going process of human evolution. Buildings made six to seven decades earlier do not lend themselves to the use of new high-tech tools of government functioning. Modern administration needs facilities that enhance efficiency, make it people- friendly and synergise functioning of various arms of the government. The planned Central Vista project is an overdue initiative to pull the government out of the archaic morass of inefficiency and put it on a solid path of modernity.
Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.
Note: The views expressed in the article are of the author's and not of Sify.com.