What about the worried retired senior officials writing letters on Central Vista?
No group of “concerned” retired senior civil servants (CRTB) has attributed the idea of a new parliament building first mentioned by former Lok Sabha President Meira Kumar (herself a former civil servant) in 2012 to tantriks, superstition or even a self-centered supreme leader. Clearly the CRTB letter writers do not attribute such irrational behavior to any of their own. They also do not think that their own actions can ever be characterized as such.
So, the scathing swarming of Minister of Urban Development Hardeep Singh Puri this week must have come as a nasty surprise. After all, he is also one of them – a retired civil servant – but, unlike them, he was not put to the pasture. And write letters, of course. Nor do the CRTBs realize that attributing superstition as the motive for this follow-up to Kumar’s idea also sheds a less than benevolent light on their own actions and those currently still in service.
As Kumar took the first steps towards a new building – which included a letter from his OSD to the Union Department of Urban Development citing the poor state of Parliament designed by Herbert Baker – no CRTB expressed anguish. Perhaps because there were many letter writers still in service at the time. And, of course, there weren’t any social media platforms for earlier CRTBs to voice their concerns long before the letter carrier could do their job.
Contrary to the “reports” which have now reached the ears of the CRTB, no one actually needs to resort to the extrasensory perceptions of the tantriks to realize that the current situation of Parliament is precarious. Those who, as serving bureaucrats, sat in the stands flanking the seats of MPs in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha rarely looked skyward for inspiration or help. Otherwise, they couldn’t have missed the moisture stains and cracks on the domed ceilings.
Efforts to modernize a heritage building in the air conditioning and information age have been decidedly unsympathetic to its delicate architecture. A glance into the building’s less exalted surroundings shows cruel holes in the walls and ceilings to allow the penetration of cables, pipes and conduits. As maintenance is predictable, the detritus from various repair activities remains in place as a breeding ground not only for moisture, but also for dust, grime and vermin.
A metal net has been affixed to the ceilings of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, presumably to protect the fragile plasters and prevent stubborn pieces from plunging kamikaze and landing on the heads of lawmakers. There is also plenty of other evidence of ad hoc tinkering. As interim measures, these are fine; but how long could this go on without proper large-scale repairs that would require evacuating both chambers for long periods of time?
In 2018, British MPs voted to leave their historic Parliament in Westminster to allow major renovations, which will cost a lot more than building a new one, of course! It was estimated that repairs on the mid-19th century building should have started at least 40 years earlier. A parliamentary committee has listed fires, sewer flooding and power outages as imminent risks. One MP even said urine was leaking into his office.
Some stones had not been cleaned since work began on the present Westminster building in the 1840s and sections are collapsing; some parts of the roof also need to be repaired. There is also a legitimate concern about asbestos – commonly used before it was found to be carcinogenic – still lurking behind false ceilings and walls in the bowels of buildings. All of these factors also apply to the Parliament Building at the foot of Raisina Hill.
Repair work on Westminster – a Unesco World Heritage site – is estimated to cost £ 10 billion and start in the mid-2020s with MPs relocated elsewhere for sessions of at least five to six years, which represents an additional cost to be calculated. . India’s new parliament building with all the latest amenities (and enough room for an additional 400 MPs after demarcation in 2026) will cost, according to current estimates, just under £ 85million.
For the CRTB group and others very agitated by the costs of buildings and repairs these days – relative to other spending imperatives – the benefits should be evident without the intervention of tantriks, clairvoyants or political leaders. And the issues pointed out about Westminster by those who occupy it (MPs) are not only relevant to our own 1920s Parliament, but even to the government buildings that appeared in the following decades along Rajpath.
Most CRTBs have worked in sarkari buildings now slated for demolition in Rajpath at some point in their careers. They must be among the very few who are completely satisfied with their workspaces for them to be so preoccupied now that these buildings will give way to more ergonomic buildings. Perhaps this is because being from the highest echelons of the bureaucracy, they never really saw where or how the hoi polloi operated below.
The state of most offices, with the exception of ministers, their immediate staff and the most senior bureaucrats, is deplorable. The fact that the Co-Secretaries and above have personal keys to access the off-limits washroom for their junior colleagues is a stinging reminder of the dire situation. Crumbling ceilings, windows obscured by coolers and air conditioners, dusty file almirahs, hallways and stairs stained with paan spit are the domain of the not so high.
If ever a straw poll is taken among lower-level government employees, past and present – doomed to abandon their careers in dimly lit, poorly ventilated, overcrowded and smelly environments – on the prospect of brand-new offices with over space, light and amenities, their reaction would be very different from that of CRTBs. They would certainly say that tantriks are not needed to convince them that better offices improve productivity and health.
The cost of upgrading inadequate and dilapidated government office buildings to 21st century standards in terms of ventilation, workspace, energy conservation and communication would be astronomical. As much as the cost of new construction. Indeed, in the case of Westminster, it is estimated that fixing it with MPs and staff on site – or only moved in batches – would cost up to four times as much and take up to 32 years.
Few people know that the Washington DC Capitol, which houses the United States Senate and House of Representatives in two wings connected by a colonnaded central rotunda topped by a huge dome, has been enlarged in phases since its construction in 1800. As the states and legislators grew, the building added wings (and two domes in succession), the old rooms being turned into museums. It sounds familiar …
The fact that Puri called in other former bureaucrats marks a turning point in this one-sided discourse. After all, no one writes an open letter to CRTBs. And although they are a minority of the large number of retired IAS, IFS, IPS and other “class 1” officers, by default some 60, 120 (or all other number contacted to affix their signature on particular letters) claim to speak for them all. Is there a reason someone takes them seriously?
Their concern about the Central Vista project is puzzling. Do they secretly yearn to work again in these decrepit buildings along Rajpath? Do their children or their extended family or their social circle want to do it? The government should temporarily house them in the same offices the CRTBs never entered as serving officers – the lockers that pass for lower bureaucracy offices. This may have a salutary effect on their perspective on this issue.
It may also be relevant to find out how many of them frequent the lawns of Rajpath as well as the hundreds of middle-class families who regularly flock to its open spaces and lines of ice cream vendors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CRTBs are more likely to be found sipping appetizers on the exclusive lawns of the Delhi Gymkhana Club, as most of their careers have not exactly been spent engaging directly with people. ordinary found on these lawns.
The CRTBs have expressed many other concerns about the project in their “open letter” which are based on “reports” and “facts” which are about as reliable as their information that the new Parliament has been launched due to of “superstitions” that he was unlucky rather than understanding the hardships of a struggling heritage building. Each of these points deserves to be recalled, with at least as much force as the minister’s denouement. Watch this place!
Read all the latest news, breaking news and coronavirus news here