Prime Minister Narendra Modi must lay the groundwork for a massive new Indian parliamentary building, the centerpiece of a grand but controversial redevelopment of the heart of colonial-era New Delhi.
Critics say the 200 billion rupees ($ 2.7 billion) the Hindu-nationalist government would spend on this vast project could be better directed towards tackling COVID-19 and repairing the plagued economy. the pandemic.
India is one of the worst affected countries and has so far recorded more than 9.7 million infections and at least 141,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
Modi, 70, will also perform Hindu rituals during Thursday’s ceremony to kick off construction of the new parliament – a building said to be the heart of the officially secular democracy of 1.3 billion people.
The project will begin even as legal challenges unfold in the Supreme Court, which could potentially sabotage, or at least delay, the review.
It also comes as tens of thousands of farmers, angry at new farm laws, blocked the capital for a second week, in a major challenge to Modi’s authority and his reform agenda.
Due for completion in 2022, when India marks 75 years of independence from Britain, the new, much larger parliament will replace an older building which the government says is showing signs of “distress.”
Designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century as the centerpiece of the Raj, the district also includes Grand Rajpath Boulevard, the President’s Residence, government offices, the National Museum and the War Memorial of the India.
Modi’s redesign of the panoramic, tree-lined and lawn-lined view will see it surrounded by rows of towering new government buildings and the Prime Minister’s office will be relocated and expanded.
Part of the old parliament will be “renovated” and will continue to be used for government business, while other buildings will be turned into museums. Some will be demolished.
Modi’s office said the redevelopment “will match the aspirations of a new India.”
But there has been a chorus of criticism, not just at the price, which is expected to be 9.7 billion rupees ($ 130 million) for the triangular parliamentary complex alone.
Tikender Singh Panwar, an opposition politician and urbanization expert, told AFP news agency that the redevelopment was a “big scandal in the making”.
“Oddly enough, for a project of this size, size and cost, the details are sketchy … I see it as a fascist leader wanting to leave an imprint of his glory on Delhi,” he said.
Political commentator Arati Jerath said the redevelopment signaled “the creation of a new India which will bear Modi’s imprint.”
“This money could have been well spent to heal and repair the economy [and] create jobs but instead they are spent on making one man’s grand dreams of what a new India should look like, ”Jerath said.
Some opposition parties have also criticized the government’s decision to perform Hindu rituals at Thursday’s inauguration.
Hindus make up the majority of India’s population and many religious minorities, especially the 200 million Muslims, fear that Modi wants to turn India into a Hindu nation.
The project also encountered legal problems with several petitions from India’s highest court questioning its validity based on land and environmental rules.
The Supreme Court on Monday expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s rush to inaugurate the project before considering the pleas.
This, however, allowed the paperwork and other procedures – including Thursday’s ceremony – to take place.