Central Vista Redevelopment project has been surrounded by controversies ever since it was announced. Going with such a large project when the average economic growth of the country declined for the fourth consecutive year in FY 2019-20, that is, the pre-pandemic year, seemed irresponsible. As we entered the pandemic, we not only saw one of the biggest economic contractions in the post-independence history, but also the Indian healthcare system collapsing miserably. The floating dead bodies on the banks of river Ganga are an open testimony to that. Personally, I know dozens of people who have lost their lives in this pandemic. But, even this didn’t prevent the current dispensation from continuing the massive project, or as the critics call it “Modi Mahal”.
Newslaundry has published report after report to give us a detailed analysis of what is wrong with the project: dismissing suggestions from experts, no public disclosure of project blueprint, starting tender processes without green clearances, to name a few. Senior journalist Alpana Kishore writes in an article for Newslaundry,
“In January 2016, an . This was possibly the first indicator of the government’s thinking on the project. Its author was architect Bimal Patel, favoured by prime minister Narendra Modi for several projects in Gujarat … In [all] these years, a flurry of laws and amendments were passed that would eventually prove critical to the Central Vista project and its chosen strategy of avoiding institutional scrutiny. They would loosen or knock out crucial controls, place key pawns on the chessboard in essential roles, and quietly activate non-operational laws.”
Its result was that the The Supreme Court of India, earlier this year, gave a green flag to the project by a majority of 2-1. The Apex court noted that the project was “just, proper and in accordance with law”.
But soon after the decision, a brutal and destructive second wave of the corona virus pandemic hit the country. India’s already weak healthcare infrastructure completely broke down. There was oxygen shortage, vaccines shortage, medical bed shortage, and even RT-PCR testing kits shortage. Even at a time when almost all the states, including the capital city of Delhi, were announcing lockdowns, the Central Vista Redevelopment Project continued since it was declared as an essential service by the government.
This was followed by a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court pleading to order a stay of some months on the project. But, this too was rejected by the court.
I am not at all surprised by the court’s decision, says Prof. Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor of NALSAR. He goes on to say that this was no more a court’s matter after the SC verdict. This is a matter of morality and ethics while judicial courts are courts of law.
As the SC itself clarified in its decision aforementioned,
“We are compelled to wonder if we, in the absence of a legal mandate, can dictate the government to desist from spending money on one project and instead use it for something else, or if we can ask the government to run their offices only from areas decided by this Court, or if we can question the wisdom of the government in focusing on a particular direction of development… In light of the settled law, we should be loath to venture into these areas… No doubt, the Courts are repositories of immense public trust… [but] [w]e cannot be called upon to govern. For, we have no wherewithal or prowess and expertise in that regard.”
The point being that judiciary and executives have separation of powers and for the courts to deal with policy matters is not at all correct.
One of the most basic yet the most important concept that we study in economics is that of opportunity cost. Every policy/action has a cost attached to it, and for one thing to be achieved something has to be sacrificed. The same is true for the central vista project which not only have an economic cost but also a moral cost attached to it.
The estimated cost of this project is ₹20,000 crores (₹20 billion). This money could have easily gone somewhere else, especially during this pandemic. Also, all this is taxpayers’ money. Whatever our political ideologies be, wasting the taxpayers’ money is never the goal. As Amit Varma wrote,
“… I know there is one thing that all citizens can agree on: our taxes should be spent on governance, not politics.
The function of taxes should be to make the people of a country better off, and not the political party in charge.
And yet, look around you. You will find that the party in power constantly uses government funds to buy votes and benefit cronies — and this has been normalised.”
The moral cost is the ongoing pandemic. Although the courts have given their judgments in favour of the government, but journalists will keep writing about the timing of this project, and how it was pushed forward when the whole country was in anguish. It would still be a matter of discussion years after this would be completed.
So, the government may have won it in the judicial courts, they lost it in the court of society. Because the society is the court of ethics and morals.