By Aditi Gupta
New Delhi, Mar 9 (PTI) The Centre's grandiose plan to redevelop the Central Vista has come in for severe criticism from environmental experts, who contended that it was the government's way of "pampering itself" without considering that the project is going to sacrifice huge green cover and make the air toxic with its construction and demolition dust.
The experts on Monday questioned the rationale of the project which, they claimed, would involve chopping at least 2,000 trees considering that Delhi tops the list of most polluted capital cities in the world.
The plan proposes to construct a new Parliament building with the existing one converted into a museum.
The prime minister's residence and office are likely to be shifted near the South Block and the vice-president's new house will be in the vicinity of the North Block as per a blueprint prepared by the government.
It envisages a triangular Parliament building next to the existing one, a common Central Secretariat and the revamping of the three-km-long Rajpath -- from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.
"Each day for the next four years we will have close to 500 trucks of debris, steel, cement et al running from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate. How healthy is that for the most polluted capital of the world? And not to forget we are cutting hundreds of fully grown beautiful trees.
"Government, instead of being a role model, is demonstrating the opposite. Pampering itself instead of taking care of its people and their health," said Bhavreen Kandhari, an environmentalist with Clean Air Collective.
Her view was shared by environmentalist and advocate Gaurav Bansal, who said that this project will have a negative impact on environment as it aims construct buildings on the green patches of the national capital.
"The land in Delhi is already overloaded with concrete structures. We need to preserve the green cover. Delhi is already reeling under toxic smog and traffic congestion. It is time to decongest the city but such measures will cause more congestion," Bansal said.
The Central Vista project is now sub-judice with the Supreme Court transferring to itself all the petitions related to it.
The apex court is now dealing with two petitions -- one assailed the public notice inviting objections against the change of land use of several plots of land in Central Vista while the other petition had asserted that the public hearing was conducted in a mechanical manner which demonstrated complete non-application of mind.
Opposing the government's proposal to revamp the Central Vista, experts and environment activists argued that this work would create massive demolition waste.
"To transport demolition waste and construction materials thousands of trucks will need to go through Delhi. Why do we need to line our lungs with more dust?
"We, in Delhi, are in the middle of a water crisis. Ecology of the area is such that there is a watershed from the Ridge to the Yamuna. Water flows overground and underground and this project will create a barrier at both levels because it will be fully concretised above and below for car-parking basements -- eight floors above and four floors are planned at the moment," said Kandhari.
She added that a huge area that currently absorbs water in the soil will be gone.
"Concrete is highly carbon emitting. Can you imagine the carbon impact of this construction project? No mention of the birds, nests, animals and the biodiversity that will get displaced," she said.
Anjal Prakash, Research Director at the Indian School of Business, said the redevelopment of Central Vista is an ambitious plan which involves heritage buildings, open spaces and the associated environment but with vanishing green spaces in the city, there is a need to protect whatever space is left.
"The project, in its present form, could appropriate open spaces which are major groundwater recharge zones. Our cities, seriously lacks open green spaces and so we must protect whatever open spaces have been left. Urban planning and environmental planning should go hand in hand and not one at the expense of other," he said.
Experts also called for a detailed systematic discussion on the pros and cons of the project "before planning such massive development".
"I understand the need for infrastructural development and the new requirements in support of this project. However, the environment impact assessment (EIA) of the project in its totality needs to be discussed in public hearings.
"We need to have full disclosure on the aspects of project which has implications for many people living in the area and specially on open space which has been the lifeline of Delhi in the past as major groundwater recharge zones," Prakash said.
Under the Central Vista revamp plan, the new Parliament building will have a seating capacity of 900 to 1,200 MPs with computer screens on tables and comfortable seating space, and offices for Union ministers and MPs.
The triangular Parliament building is expected to be built by August 2022 when the country will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day. The common Central Secretariat is likely to be built by 2024.
The plan is still pending clearance by the environment assessment committee (EAc) under the ministry of environment, said ministry sources. PTI AG SMN