INTERVIEW | Criticism against Central Vista project motivated, says Union minister Hardeep Puri
"Those who exercised political power as colonial dispensation obviously designed that architecture for governance in their own image for their own purposes," he said.
Published: 20th September 2022 08:50 AM | Last Updated: 20th September 2022 04:05 PM | A+A A-
Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri spoke to Preetha Nair about the significance of the Central Vista Project and the controversies surrounding it.
Excerpts from an interview:
The revamped Central Vista avenue between India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan was inaugurated recently. Many describe it as a rewriting of history. Why so?
The project is unique; it is a transformative infrastructure project. It is re-designing the artery of governance to make it fit for purpose, and aesthetically reflect India not as encapsulated by the 190 years of our colonial experience. Those who exercised political power as colonial dispensation obviously designed that architecture for governance in their own image for their own purposes. So why is it any surprise that it was called Kingsway? In 1947, it was called Rajpath. Raj means colonial power. A colonial mindset was being created. Today, we are 75 years old and as an independent country. When we see the first physical segment of that transformative project take shape, the acceptance of it has been overwhelming. The turnout, for instance, is 150,000 on a weekend or 100,000 or other days.
The name change from Rajpath to Kartavya Path has invited criticism. Can we shed the colonial past just by changing names?
By changing the name, we are giving out a message that when India turns 100 years in 2047, she will be very proud. I spent 29 years in foreign service and I have seen the countries that have done well have the capacity to respect their cultural heritage, their history, and yet define their own individuality. We are not doing it in order to erase the colonial past. It’s a process under transformation. But there are aspirations for the original us, which has been reclaimed now. This is an interesting lesson in post-colonial society and a beautiful summation of the new India. Kartavya Path, new defence enclaves and executive enclaves are not built for tomorrow and the day after. This was built 100 years ago. There is a need for continuity, preservation, and adaptability.
Today, the pedestrian sideways along Kartavya Path are more robust. We’ve added 16 new bridges, refurbishing and reinforcing the water bodies. Canals have been fitted with necessary infrastructure like aerators. We have replanted 101 acres of grass. Not a single tree has been removed and we have planted 114 additional trees.
The Opposition has been asking if Raj Bhavans too could be renamed.
Why not? It’s a free society. Since the Congress is ruling in two states, they can go ahead and rename Raj Bhavan as Kartavya Bhavan.
There are voices that call it the PM’s vanity project at a time when the country grappled with the Covid pandemic…
I would say that these are motivated criticisms. When the pandemic appeared, the world was locking down, so was India. After a while, governments had to make a conscious decision between life and livelihood
We realise clearly that if you continued everything on a total lockdown basis, people who then start suffering the adverse consequences of no economic activity. Therefore, at a particular time, a calibrated opening started. This was one of the safest projects as all workers were vaccinated and we finished it in 18 months.
Several infrastructure projects were going on all over Delhi. Why is a PIL filed to stop this one? This one had the best arrangement.
Will the new Parliament be operational in the winter session as planned?
It’s a work in progress and hopefully we will have the next winter session of Parliament in the new building. It’s totally integrated. The new parliament will have the latest global technologies. It will also have Indian art, culture and history. The previous parliament was unfortunately never built even for the current size of the two Houses. It was in the seismic zone and was in a danger area. In the new building, every MP will have a separate chamber of his/her own. The insides are already completed.
The old Parliament building will be refurbished so that it can be used for institutions for parliamentary studies and other purposes. It will become a much bigger complex.
There is a concern that the project with its concentration of ministries and official residences will change the area into a high-security zone.
Ministries are spread across seven locations. People who make statements should check their facts. The government has to pay Rs 1,000 crore every month as rent for housing the offices. With the revamped project, we’ll have state-of-the-art accessible offices. Bhavans cannot be refurbished because of their poor maintenance.
There are concerns about rehousing precious artefacts of the National Museum…
Every historical legacy will be protected. All the artefacts are packed and each one is accounted for. When South Block is ready, it will be shifted there. Everything is being done meticulously.
Many historians have written to the National Archives about the relocation of documents.
We are happy to talk to them and allay their fears… Some of them have signed petitions.