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As India's death toll surges, £2bn renovation of Delhi parliament buildings continues as 'essential service'

Many are questioning how Prime Minister Narendra Modi can justify his "vanity project" as hospitals are overwhelmed with patients

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Indian crematoriums have been forced to construct makeshift funeral pyres amid surging deaths due to coronavirus © Alamy

Indian crematoriums have been forced to construct makeshift funeral pyres amid surging deaths due to coronavirus © Alamy

A devastating second wave of Covid-19 in India has inundated its hospitals and depleted its vital sources of medical oxygen. At least 300,000 people have tested positive each day for the past week, with 360,960 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours—the largest single-day total in the world. Yesterday saw 3,293 deaths—the deadliest day in India since the pandemic began—pushing its death toll to 201,187. These official figures, experts say, likely represent one-tenth of actual case numbers.

Lockdowns have been enforced across the country, including in Delhi, where one in three people are testing positive and crematoriums are so crowded that they are forced to build makeshift funeral pyres on spare patches of land.

Yet amid this widespread crisis, construction on the grand redevelopment of the capital's historic parliament buildings continues apace.

The proposal for a newly designed Central Vista of government buildings in Delhi Rendering: HCP Designs

The redevelopment of the Central Vista, described as a "vanity project" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is estimated to cost around £2bn. Despite widespread opposition, the Supreme Court greenlit construction for the project in January, progress for which appears unencumbered by Delhi's strict lockdown that was enforced on 19 April.

In an official letter published by Scroll.in, the department of Central Public Works, which is overseeing the project, wrote to the Delhi Police on 16 April to allow the contractors to “ferry their workers to and fro from their labour camp at Sarai Kale Khan through their own buses during curfew period”.

Although Delhi officials ordered for all construction work to be halted unless workers were living on site, at least 180 movement passes were issued by New Delhi's deputy commissioner of police for workers involved in the Central Vista project. The passes have been granted under the “essential services” category.

Workers under one of the project's subcontractors, BP Engineering Limited, told Scroll.in that they were commuting from rented rooms around 7km from the Central Vista, with no living arrangements being provided near the site.

BP Engineering Limited did not respond to request for comment.

Government failure

Many are now questioning how Modi can justify the project's £2bn budget at a time when hospitals are routinely forced to turn away patients due to lack of medical staff and equipment. In the absence of proper infrastructure, Indian families have been taking to social media and Whatsapp to find empty beds and oxygen supplies.

On 22 April, as cases were spiking, widespread criticism on social media emerged around reports that the government was inviting bids for the first stage of the Central Vista project, at a cost of around £340m. The Indian government has since ordered Instagram and Twitter to remove around 100 posts that criticise its mishandling of the pandemic and call for Modi's resignation, claiming that the posts could "incite panic".

This month, an estimated 50 million Indians have travelled to the temple town of Haridwar, in Uttarakhand to celebrate Maha Kumbh Mela, a month-long religious festival that happens once every 12 years.

Meanwhile, crowds in the hundred of thousands are currently gathering for state elections underway in the highly contested region of West Bengal, which could see Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist political party BJP overthrow the incumbent AITC.

The Indian government estimates that the second wave of Covid-19 cases will peak in mid-May at around 500,000 cases per day.

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