Herald View: Judicial seal to govt’s yet another vanity project, the new parliament building
Indian parliament building is not even a hundred years old. Even as the country faces serious challenges to its economy and society, Govt appears determined to go ahead with another vanity project
Around 100 acres of public land around India Gate in Delhi are being taken over by the Union Government for constructing a new Parliament building, a new secretariat and new residences for the Prime Minister and the Vice President.
This is the open space which was the lungs of the capital city and drew people to lie and lounge, celebrate festivals and gather on holidays or in the evening for a stroll or a quick bite of the ice cream in summer. This is where young couples would bring their children and let them loose on the lawns, certain that they would be safe. But the Government has different plans and wants to utilise the land for constructing buildings that will tower over India Gate.
A concrete jungle will replace the open space and deny the residents of Delhi to assemble in times of joy and in times of stress to protest. The Supreme Court refused to grant a stay in April and although petitions challenging the decision were still being heard in court, went about uprooting trees and preparing to demolish parts of the existing buildings. The Solicitor General of India argued in court that the Constitution provided for ‘representative democracy’ and not ‘participatory democracy’; that it was the job of the government to build and that the court had no jurisdiction to regulate such decisions or design.
The Supreme Court reserved the judgment of November 5. But following reports that the Prime Minister would be laying the foundation stone of the new central vista on December 10, the Supreme Court took notice of the ongoing activities and rapped the Government on the knuckles. It was not behaving like a prudent litigant, the court said, in not waiting for the final judgment before going ahead with both the construction and the foundation laying ceremony. But having said that, the court allowed the government to go ahead with the foundation laying ceremony and the ‘paperwork’, leaving no doubt in anybody’s mind about what the final judgment will be. Had the litigant not been the Government of India, one doubts if such liberty or leeway would have been allowed. And in some ways, it does remind us of several other judgments in recent years, when the court seemingly failed to uphold the law or public interest.
Unfortunately, the Government and the Judiciary have both set a bad precedent. The Government did not follow the due process while approving the plan and awarding the contract. It did not think it necessary to hold a country-wide consultation with architects and designers. It did not take the Parliament, people or the opposition into confidence. And it failed to ensure transparency. The judiciary has now set a precedent by which the executive can ignore ongoing challenges in court and continue with its own plans.
The Indian parliament building is relatively new and not even a hundred years old. In comparison the Capitol building in Washington D.C. is 227 years old, Westminster palace which houses the British parliament goes back over four centuries and the Kremlin in Moscow even longer. All these countries have preserved their heritage buildings as a reminder of their history. Even Germany has not cared to remove all traces of concentration camps and the gas chambers. Nor have east European countries done away with Soviet-era buildings. But even as the country faces serious challenges to its economy, security and society, the Government appears determined to go ahead with another vanity project.