The Central Vista project has been criticised, with the opposition questioning the need to spend thousands of crores on government buildings during the Covid pandemic
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday morning inaugurated new Defence Ministry offices in Delhi and, as he did so, he took a swipe at the opposition over the contentious Central Vista project.
He accused critics of the ambitious ₹ 20,000 crore project – which includes building a new Parliament and central government offices, as well as the refurbishment of the North and South Blocks – of caring more about “personal agendas” than the condition of key government offices and ministries.
“We all saw how some people tried to sabotage the important Central Vista project… how they ran personal agendas to spread misinformation. But not once did they speak about the condition of these hutments… from where our ministries work. Not once did they mention the new Defence Ministry complexes and how crucial they are,” the Prime Minister declared.
“… if they had done so, their lies and agendas would have been exposed,” he claimed, hitting out at opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi; in May the Congress MP called the Central Vista a “criminal wastage” of resources and urged the government to divert money to battling the pandemic.
Mr Gandhi and the Congress have urged the government to halt the project and prioritise upgrading medical infrastructure. The Congress has also hit out at the government for categorising the project as an “essential service”, which allowed construction to proceed despite the pandemic and lockdown.
The Prime Minister, however, today said that the new Defence Ministry offices – which will house 7,000 officials across two complexes on Kasturba Gandhi Marg and Africa Avenue in central Delhi – reflected his government placing “highest priority and honour” to the nation’s armed forces.
The old offices – around 700 hutments spread over 50 acres – will be redeveloped to house a new ‘Executive Enclave’, which will include a new residence for the Prime Minister.
“It always surprised me that the Defence Ministry, like some others, was run from World War II-era hutments… these were made keeping horses and stables in mind. I always wondered how such important ministries were being run from old, dilapidated hutments…” he said.
“This (the new offices) is a big step towards the construction of a modern Defence Ministry enclave in the capital… (which will) further strengthen our efforts to make the working (conditions) of our armed forces more convenient and more effective,” Prime Minister Modi declared.
“This is all part of Central Vista – something those with false agendas and spreading misinformation will never acknowledge. You can now see the important work being done under this project.”
The Prime Minister also threw in a swipe at “media houses in Delhi”, asking why they had failed to cover this – “the conditions in which our important ministries were functioning”.
Union Ministers took to social media to hail the Prime Minister’s speech. Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani declared the new offices would “prove to be effective in making the functioning of our forces more smooth, effective and empowered’.
The Central Vista project has generated massive controversy and criticism, with critics and opposition leaders questioning the need to spend thousands of crores on government buildings instead of spending it on vaccine development and distribution or scaling up health infrastructure.
Other criticisms of the project range from its impact on Delhi’s green cover to the destruction of some of the city’s most historically significant landmarks.
The government has dismissed all criticism, insisting that the project had been conceived in September 2019 (before the pandemic) and that no historic buildings will be demolished.
It has also dismissed reports the costs will divert funds from the nation’s Covid vaccination efforts, saying “there is enough money… advance payments (for vaccines) have been made till August (and) there will be enough vaccines for everyone by December”.
The Central Vista was also challenged in the Supreme Court, which, in June, said it would not interfere in a Delhi High Court order allowing some construction to proceed despite the pandemic.