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Dilli Log #2: The Central Vista Project: Symbolic Construction Work

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Date17 Oct 2021

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18.06.2021

With an average temperature of 39.5 degrees, May and June are the hottest months of the year in Delhi. The heat paralyses, makes you sleepy. June is considered the month for fresh mangoes and lychees - the sweetness of the fruit compensates for the ordeal of sweating. With eight to nine hours of sunshine, the night hardly brings any coolness. Whether water pipes or water tanks, the sun heats up everything. If you turn on the tap, you have hot water around the clock. However, the dizzying temperatures do not stop anyone from working. Especially in the heart of Delhi, a lot of sweat is flowing these days on the large construction site of the Central Vista Project.

The redevelopment project involves three kilometres on the ceremonial Rajpath Boulevard. The stretch that lies between the official residence of the President of India and India Gate. Between 2020 and 2024, a new parliament, a new residence for the prime minister and new ministries are to be built here. In addition, the two blocks of the Central Secretariat are to be turned into public museums. The central government argues that the existing buildings are bursting at the seams. And they also need modernisation, which is difficult in view of the old walls. In any case, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is willing to invest a good 250 billion euros in the large construction site.

The Central Vista project is considered a pet project of the Modi government. Its importance became clear when the dramatic second Covid wave hit Delhi. As the city despaired over lack of oxygen and froze in lockdown, construction work on the Rajpath continued. The project was categorised as an "essential service". Opposition politician Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "Social Vista - not essential. A central government with a vision - essential." Another accused the Prime Minister of nurturing his vanity while others are struggling to breathe. The Delhi High Court then ruled in late May that Central Vista was an "essential project of national interest".

The Central Vista construction project is similar to the Berlin City Palace, the Stuttgart 21 transport project or the Elbphilharmonie - the debates surrounding their construction are as unstoppable as their construction. And most of the time, supporters and opponents have good arguments. While some insist that the increase in India's population will be accompanied by an expansion of the parliamentary seats and the entire administration, others are mainly bothered by the planned demolition of the National Museum, the Indira Gandhi Centre and the National Archives. In particular, the demolition of the National Museum - with its 200,000 ancient exhibits from all eras of Indian history and from all regions of the country - sparked outrage. The fact that a certain number of old trees along Rajpath Boulevard are to make way for the large-scale project has also been criticised.

The practical benefit of the large-scale project for the Indian government apparatus is obvious. And when one considers that the Indian government quarter was built by the British colonial power, it is quite understandable that the oppression experienced must be shaken off - and with it the symbolism of the colonial power. Nevertheless, in view of the difficult situation of the health system, the poverty of small farmers and migrant workers or the hopelessly polluted waters of India, one wonders whether the money would not be better invested elsewhere. But perhaps one should not underestimate the symbolic value of the Central Vista project.

If you want to follow the Dilli Log series in German as a podcast, then click here!

Written by: Antje Stiebitz

Photo Credit: Laurentiu Morariu - Unsplash

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