A group of 69 retired All-India and Central services’ officers on Tuesday wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they were dismayed at the way the Central Vista redevelopment project was going ahead and urged the government to review it in its entirety.
The group, under the banner of the Constitutional Conduct Group, said it was dismayed at the way the government and Mr. Modi had “chosen to completely disregard the Rule of Law in the matter of the Central Vista redevelopment project.”
They said various aspects of the project, from the inviting of designs and selecting a consultant to obtaining approvals, had been done in a high-handed manner.
“Of particular concern is the manner in which environmental clearances were obtained for a plan which treats the green spaces and the built heritage of the Central Vista as an unnecessary hurdle to the achievement of objectives driven by monumental ambition,” the letter said.
The retired bureaucrats said the government was going ahead with the new Parliament project while the matter was sub judice. Mr. Modi had laid the foundation stone for the project on December 10.
“We believe that this was the height of impropriety when the very basics of the project were under challenge. While the case was sub judice, it was incumbent upon the government to await its outcome. Was the plan to present a fait accompli that would be difficult to reverse?”
Question locus standi
They also questioned the Prime Minister’s locus standi to perform the ceremony as the head of the executive and not the President. “For a building that will accommodate the two Houses of Parliament, the appropriate protocol would have been for the President of India to lay the foundation stone. This was a clear instance of breach of constitutional propriety,” they said.
The retired bureaucrats added that it was a matter of dismay that the government was going to invest a large sum in the project at a time the economy was in decline and the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting millions.
“We have a public health infrastructure crying out for investment of public resources that could benefit substantially from the kind of investment planned for the Central Vista project; yet, for the government it seems that this wasteful and unnecessary project must take precedence over social priorities like health and education,” they said.
They urged the government to review the project, saying that they believed it should not be implemented, especially right now.
“However, even if the government decides to go ahead in principle, the project must be subjected to critical scrutiny by citizens and independent experts; plans must be redrawn to make them compatible with environmental and heritage conservation standards and the due processes of law relating to such projects must be followed,” they said.
The retired bureaucrats said there had been a tendency on the part of the government to ignore the arguments of those who disagreed. “We urge you to reverse these trends and not peremptorily dismiss all opposing viewpoints,” they wrote.
Among those who signed the letter were former Health Secretary Keshav Desiraju, former officer on special duty with the PMO A.S. Dulat, former Reserve Bank of India deputy governor Ravi Vira Gupta, former ambassadors Deb Mukharji, Shiv Shanker Mukherjee and former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.
Under the Central Vista redevelopment plan, the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry has proposed constructing a new Parliament, Common Central Secretariat, Prime Minister’s Office, Prime Minister’s residence and Vice-President’s residence on both sides of Rajpath.