‘Vista inquiries will be made public’: Hardeep Puri
The Union government will put all the details of the consultations on the Central Vista redevelopment project in the public domain, said Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in an interview with Anisha Dutta. The minister spoke about the Supreme Court approval of the project and concerns raised about the alleged lack of public hearings on the project and its environmental impact. Edited excerpts:
Now that the judgment of the Supreme Court has been issued, will the recommendation of the judges to go to the Heritage Conservation Committee for approval be followed?
That would already be done. The inheritance committee is headed by our additional secretary; the process would have already ended.
Isn’t there supposed to be a public hearing?
Whatever it is, it will be done very quickly.
The thing to keep in mind about the Supreme Court ruling is a 600 page sentence. He has maintained our position in everything. One suggestion they have made is the requirement to install smog towers in the design of buildings to take into account the environment. We are happy to do that. That is why I welcomed him and said that we will abide by it and observe the highest standards in construction and environmental protection.
What about the points raised by the dissenting judge?
As for the dissenting ruling as well, they have upheld everything, they have said to go ahead but said that the public consultation should have been more comprehensive. Now we will put in the public domain all the queries we have had about the project. You and I may not know what inquiries have been made. For example, in Parliament, we have consulted the House spokespersons; There has been an ongoing process since the 1985 estimates committee ‘in 2012, the Special Duty Speaker (OSD) had written to the urban development secretary requesting a new Parliament building. It has been an ongoing process. I have consulted members of Parliament, the speaker has attended meetings, etc. It may not have been in the public domain, but we will put all of that in the public domain. And certainly, from now on, we are very happy to make the public consultation process more complete, and in a few days we will have a website that will have all the information about these projects; the new Parliament and Vista Central avenue, the government buildings and everything else, and there people can interact even more freely.
One of the recommendations of the verdict was also to allow a period of four weeks for people to present objections and suggestions about the project to the heritage committee, which will then have a public consultation.
That we will go through … the consultation is one thing, but if someone disagrees with you, they have no veto power. The majority opinion does not hold that. We are happy to consult and have consulted. We will give more time, but the government is the executive that has the capacity and the responsibility to make a decision … And I have said from the beginning that we will comply with all the rules of the book. We will ensure that all procedures are followed. If there has been any laxity somewhere we will correct it, no problems.
Can you go ahead with construction without the consent of the Heritage Committee?
I don’t know what the sequence is, but we will follow all the protocols.
What is the next step after this? The SC has given its go-ahead only for the new Parliament building, what about the common buildings of the secretariat and the other phases of the project?
Let’s be very clear, we have just received the go-ahead on the new Parliament and have opened the tender in the Central Vista area. Let’s go step by step.
Will the demolition of government buildings begin after this?
We’re not going to bulldoze anything until the new ones are ready, this isn’t going to be a jump, step, jump move. There will be no two movements. I will move out of this office only when the next office is ready.
So what will the arrangement be until then?
We will remain in our existing buildings until the new buildings are ready. Some people will need to be transferred. For example, some are being temporarily transferred to the Janpath Hotel, etc. but they are the ones that are currently in the IGNCA Indira Gandhi National Arts Center. We are in contact with all government departments, but that sequence is done in consultation with them.
Now in the future, will you hold a public hearing for all the remaining parts of the project?
We will have an audience but the idea is to move on. Many things will be done simultaneously too but we will go through all this, yeah