Brick by brick: Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista plan
The ruling dispensation of the day is possessed of many illusions. One is that winning an election — or two successive ones — with an indisputable majority gives a party, in this case, the Bharatiya Janata Party, proprietary rights over public buildings and the country’s heritage. This illusion alone can allow the government to decide unilaterally to rebuild the Central Vista, without adequate public debate, as a letter signed by 60 former bureaucrats has pointed out, and without proper heritage and environmental assessment. The letter, objecting to the government’s Central Vista project, is one in a series of similar protests, particularly from the Opposition. These objections were voiced before the novel coronavirus pandemic. And have intensified since because of the expense concerned. The former officers’ letter puts this particular objection in the strongest terms. Spending Rs 20,000 crore — a sum that is likely to escalate — on destroying and then rebuilding the Central Vista when thousands of Indians need food and the medical infrastructure of the country urgently needs strengthening if lives are to be saved is like Nero fiddling while Rome burnt.
Delusions of grandeur are dangerous. They lead to a desire to destroy heritage instead of building it up or restoring it, because the dream is to rewrite history by erasing traces of the past. No doubt Rs 20,000 crore is a small price to pay for such a grand ambition. The letter points out, moreover, that the project has been given to a particular Gujarat-based company and all government departments have been told to comply with its requirements. Who chose the company and on what basis? The complete indifference to transparency or the necessity, as the government, to be seen to be complying with regulations is a mark of the ruling dispensation’s self-absorption and disrespect towards democratic principles. Governing is not ownership. A project that uproots the representative buildings of democracy without caring for the needs or the opinion of the public cannot be anything but ominous. At this moment, the country needs the money. But beyond that, it needs to speak up when the government destroys the symbols of its democratic heritage.