Modi’s new parliament plan faces criticism

A ‘Therukoothu’ folk artist holds a placard with the image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during BJP celebrations for Modi’s 70th birthday, in Chennai on Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 18 September 2020

Modi’s new parliament plan faces criticism

  • Critics fears Modi's plan to redevelop New Delhi’s historic Central Vista area is “an attempt to redefine the past”

NEW DELHI: An Indian government plan to redevelop New Delhi’s historic Central Vista area is “an attempt to redefine the past” that will destroy the city’s heritage, historians and architects claim.

The warning follows an announcement that Tata Projects Ltd., one of India’s biggest conglomerates, has won a $121 million contract to build the new parliament building on the site. The redevelopment is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants to replace old government buildings on the site at an estimated cost of $3 billion.

Centra Vista, which stretches from the presidential palace to the India Gate war memorial, was designed by British architects, including Sir Edwin Lutyens, and was once home to British colonial authorities.  

  “This is the only open space in New Delhi and it defines the capital. Why does the government want to occupy public space that serves several purposes? You don’t destroy heritage,” Sohail Hashmi, an historian and heritage conservation expert, told Arab News on Thursday. 

 “In other countries, buildings even older than 200 years are still being used by governments,” he said.

Hashmi said that the Modi government “wants to erase everything that the first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru built.” 

Swapna Liddle, of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, said that existing structures should upgraded to serve new needs before new architecture was installed on the site.  

“It is a historic area. There should be wider consultation with heritage experts,” he added.

In September last year, India’s Central Public Works Department invited bids from architects worldwide by November 2020 to “replan the entire Central Vista area.” The upgrade includes public amenities, parking and green spaces to make Central Vista “a world-class tourist destination.” 

The department said that new buildings are needed because of “acute shortage of office space” and “difficulties in coordination” among ministries. 

The project was approved by a committee headed by the prime minister in April this year without public consultation because India was in lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak. The decision angered concerned citizens, academics, historians and architects. 

“India is passing through a grave crisis in terms of the pandemic and the Central Vista project should be the last thing on our mind,” Lt. Col. Anuj Srivastva, an architect who teaches at the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, told Arab News. 

“There is no need for the project. There has been no public consultation and no discussion in the parliament. Even some parliamentarians have said that the project needs to be shelved.” 

Historian Aditya Mukherjee, of New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, accused Modi of “behaving like a medieval king” at a time when millions are starving or have lost their jobs.

“In a modern democracy, if someone wants to leave a legacy, it should be through ideas and people’s welfare,” he said. 

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said the prime minister is using the project to divert attention from the coronavirus crisis. 

“Modi wants to instil a sense of pride at executing a major project that will be talked about as a major national achievement,” he said.  

“From now on it’s not going to be Lutyens’ New Delhi but Modi’s Central Vista.”

Afghan vice president vows ‘no mercy’ in violent crime fight

Updated 24 October 2020

Afghan vice president vows ‘no mercy’ in violent crime fight

  • Former spy chief leads campaign after thefts, abductions sweep capital

KABUL: A security campaign spearheaded by Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh has been launched in Kabul following an outcry among residents over a recent surge in violent crime.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aryan said a mass manhunt began on Friday involving over 20,000 posters and photographs of hundreds of wanted criminals in the capital.

“These people have been involved in numerous crimes such as theft, armed robbery, abductions and killings and we are urging citizens to inform the police of their whereabouts,” he told Arab News.

Aryan said that Saleh’s extensive security experience as the country’s former spy chief will help him bring the situation under control.

When he assumed the new role last week, Saleh said in a Facebook post that he would take responsibility for security in the city and would show “no mercy” to criminals.

The vice president’s new security role comes after the Taliban distributed leaflets in parts of Kabul, promising citizens that they would patrol and arrest criminals, and sentence them in their own courts.

The recent spike in crime has also pushed residents to launch a social media campaign using the hashtag #Kabulisnotsafe. Some demanded severe punishment, such as dismemberment for robbery, which was imposed under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and led to a fall in crime figures.

Fawzia Nasiryar, a lawmaker from Kabul, said she and other legislators have received complaints from constituents over surging crime. Muggings and violent robberies even occur in broad daylight, she added.

Several attacks have led to deaths, she said.

Criminals have also targeted vulnerable groups, including children. Earlier this month thieves entered a high school to rob students, Nasiryar said.

“We hope that the vice president’s efforts will produce results and we witness a drop in the number of crimes,” she told Arab News, but added that it will be difficult to keep crime at bay when the war-torn country’s economy is so poor.

“As long as the economy is bad and there is joblessness, we won’t see improvement in the situation. Sadly, in a society where one person is rich out of 100 people, you will naturally see a rise in crimes.”

However, the increasing crime rate has also disrupted economic activity.

Jan Aqa Naweed, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Chambers of Commerce, told Arab News that surging crime in recent years has prompted hundreds of Afghan businessmen to leave the country, taking their capital and investments with them.

Some analysts argue that the vice president’s intervention is a mere public relations effort and will fail to achieve a lasting impact.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail said the security campaign only seeks to address public anger.

“This will have a temporary impact and is aimed at calming down the anger and sentiments of people,” he said.