Government circles have begun a glorification campaign around the proposed structure for the new Parliament. Some of them enthusiastically went to the extent of calling it a “monument” to the cultural diversity of Indian democracy. Yes, in a way this is correct: Indian democracy and its cultural diversity are going through such a situation that monuments could become necessary to keep its memory alive.
There are many arguments put forth by the government’s supporters to justify the proposed structure. One theory attempts to argue that as the population grows, the structure that houses Parliament has to expand. They say that in 1951, when India’s population was only 36.1 crore, one MP on an average represented seven lakh people. The population has since grown to 135 crore. To add strength to this number theory, an argument is made for an increase in the number of seats in Parliament after 2026. That is why the government is in a hurry to build a gigantic Parliament House, with seating for 1,224 MPs!
By giving clearance for the Central Vista project, the Supreme Court has merely accepted the government’s point of view. This process began on December 7 when the Court allowed the government to proceed with the foundation-stone laying ceremony. The final 611-page verdict of the three-judge bench comprising of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheswari and Sanjeev Khanna, which includes Justice Khanna’s note of disagreement, stamps its seal of approval on the government’s whimsical plan. It weakens the foundation of democracy.
The Central Vista is expected to be a Rs 20,000-crore construction project at the heart of the power corridor of India. At least 86.1 acres of land would undergo further alteration for this purpose. Thousands of trees are to be cut down. Those who run the government are in a hurry to complete a new Parliament building by 2022. It would be three times bigger than the present Parliament building that has great historical value for India. The government must explain how this colossal extravaganza becomes a priority for the country at a time of grave economic crisis.
The Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs has claimed that “the central government has always been sensitive to environmental concerns and will continue to stick to the highest standards during the period of construction”. But no serious and meaningful environmental impact assessment has been done. The same was the case with assessments on social and archaeological impacts. Their only concern was to make Delhi “a world-class capital city… by the time the nation completes 75 years of Independence”. For that, the government was ready to go to any extent in terms of environmental destruction. The purpose is to project Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a world-class leader, a builder of colossal structures. From the Patel statue in Gujarat to Ram mandir in Ayodhyato a new Parliament building, this construction mania is clearly visible.
The strength and standards of a country depend not on the number of magnificent structures it houses, but on the living standards of her people. From that viewpoint, the government should mobilise its resources for building better conditions for the people to lead a decent life. The farmers and agricultural workers of India whom they call as “annadatas” are protesting on the borders of the national capital to prevent the government from selling them out to corporate interests. The workers who are denied their wages and decent living conditions are also on the warpath. Farmers and workers are the builders of the nation as they create food and wealth. The builders of new structures have forgotten Article 21 of the Constitution and deny fundamental rights to the people. The philosophy and psychology that promote the building of the new Parliament structure are diametrically opposite to the lived realities of India. The economy has registered negative growth in two consecutive financial quarters and unemployment is on the rise. Prices are skyrocketing. In such a critical situation, the government has no right to spend such a huge amount of money for a new building which in no way is a priority for India.
In challenging times like these, it is incumbent upon the government to focus its energies and resources on the fundamental needs of the people and the nation, rather than undertaking projects to serve their own political legacies. The government must call off the Central Vista project and, instead, focus on the real priorities the interests of its people.
The writer is leader of the CPI in Parliament