- Union Minister Hardeep Puri said no heritage building would be touched
- He said new Parliament Building is a "necessity", not a vanity project
- He said no design had been cleared for a new PM's residence till now
Hours after the Delhi High Court rejected a challenge to the Central Vista project, Union Minister Hardeep Puri said a false narrative was being propagated over the plan and that "no heritage building would be touched". He also defended the cost of the big ticket makeover and said it had no bearing on the procurement of vaccines.
Mr Puri asserted that no design had been cleared for a new Prime Minister's residence and only two projects - the Parliament building and the widening of the central vista stretch - were on track.
He conceded that the pandemic had impacted the project's timeline and plans for the new PM's residence and Vice President's house had been delayed. "We didn't visualise the pandemic, the virus. There is a whole process so our schedule will be delayed to 2024 -2025," he told reporters.
"Currently, two new projects are underway- the New Parliament Building and Central Vista Avenue. A decision on these projects was taken before the pandemic. The total cost of the project is around Rs 1300 crore," the Union Minister said.
The decision to construct a new Parliament building was, in fact, taken in 2012 when the Congress was in power, he added.
The Parliament building is being constructed at an estimated cost of Rs. 862 crores and the Central Vista Avenue at Rs. 477 crores. "The total cost of the project construction currently underway is around Rs 1,300-odd crores... We want to finish the new Parliament building by 2022 to mark 75 years of independence," Mr Puri told reporters.
He also asserted that this was "not a vanity project but a necessary project" as the current building was in a seismic zone.
Tackling criticism of the project with visuals of a dug-up Rajpath viral online, the minister said the "Centra Vista" and "Centra Vista Avenue" were being freely interchanged.
"None of the historic iconic cultural buildings will be touched. They will remain exactly as they are," he said.
Mr Puri hit out at the opposition's taunts about the government prioritizing the Rs 15,000 crore project at a time it needs to buy more vaccines. "There will be enough money for this and advance payments have been made till August. There will be enough of vaccines for everyone by December. The PM is personally monitoring this vaccine policy and will ensure everyone will get the vaccine," he assured on a day the Supreme Court sought a detailed response on the Centre's vaccine policy.
A new Prime Minister's residence complex, a new parliament building and new headquarters for various ministries are part of a massive refurbishment plan for central Delhi, home to historic buildings designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens.
The plan has provoked a huge outcry among opposition parties and on social media over objections ranging from the impact on Delhi's green cover to destroying Delhi's most historically significant landmarks.
Earlier, Mr Puri had denied a Times of India report that claimed work on the PM's residence would start in August. Calling the report "amusing", he clarified: "Conceptual designs of PM Residence have still not been presented to the Ministry. Further, before construction starts, the design has to be finalised, approved and works have to be awarded after tendering."
The Delhi High Court has dismissed a fresh challenge to the redevelopment project and fined the petitioner Rs 1 lakh, describing as "motivated" a petition that asked for construction to be stopped as workers were exposed to Covid. The centre had argued in court that the petition was "sheer abuse of the process of law", and yet another attempt to block the project.
No question arises of suspending construction work as "the labourers are staying at the site", the High Court said.