India World

Modi’s $1.8 billion renovation project faces criticism amid India’s biggest public health crisis

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has come under sharp focus for the $1.8 billion Central Vista Redevelopment Project amid the coronavirus crises the nation is witnessing.

The Central Vista Redevelopment Project was announced in September 2019, and has been branded unduly expensive, environmentally irresponsible and a threat to cultural heritage.

The project includes a new parliament, elaborate new private residence for Mr Modi, 10 other buildings, among dozens of planned new government structures, many critics have dismissed the scheme as an architectural vanity project for Mr Modi.

While India is witnessing a devastating coronavirus crisis that has pushed the country’s hospitals to breaking point, critics compared the cost of the project to the amount needed to vaccinate 450 million Indians or purchase 10 million oxygen cylinders or build 40 mega Covid hospitals.

What has angered people more is that the government has named the construction an essential activity – meaning the construction at the site would continue while the rest of the city remains under Covid lockdown. The urgency, the timing and the cost to finish the project has attracted an ire.

Two Indian citizens lodged a case with the Delhi High Court to try to halt work at the Central Vista, arguing construction could aid the spread of Covid-19. The petitioners then took the matter to the Supreme Court, after city authorities had “failed to appreciate the gravity” of the situation.

This is not the first attempt to formally oppose the revamp. In April last year, eight months before Modi laid the parliament’s foundation stone in a high-profile photo-op, a petition was filed to the Supreme Court opposing plans on legal and environmental grounds.

The next month, a group of 60 former civil servants wrote a scathing open letter to Modi describing the project as a “thoughtless and irresponsible act” that was motivated by “a superstitious belief that the present Parliament building is ‘unlucky.'”

The wide-ranging letter went on to discuss the “severe environmental damage” the redevelopment will cause to “the lungs of the city.” The plans are “shrouded in secrecy,” it read, and “not substantiated by any public consultation or expert review.”

The group also highlighted the architectural value of buildings earmarked for demolition, saying that the scheme would “irrevocably” destroy the area’s cultural heritage.

Modi’s insistence on pushing ahead with the project while India is seeing its worst public health crisis reflects how misplaced his priorities are.