The Union environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) on infrastructure projects has rejected an application by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to amend the terms of reference for redeveloping the common central secretariat buildings as part of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project. The application was made a day after environment ministry approved the earlier terms of reference.

In the minutes of its meeting on November 25, published on Monday on the ministry’s Parivesh website, EAC said CPWD should “refrain from the piecemeal approach for the proposed development and redevelopment.”

CPWD and its consultant Kadam Environmental Consultants Limited agreed to withdraw the proposal in the present format, according to the minutes. “ EAC (Infra-2) decided to return the proposal in original and asked project proponent to apply afresh while adopting an integrated approach for the proposed development/ redevelopment,” the minutes added.

CPWD had submitted a conceptual plan for redeveloping the common central secretariat buildings and central conference centre along with the Prime Minister ‘s office and residence, a Special Protection Group (SPG) building and the vice-president’s enclave — all part of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project — to the environment ministry for environmental clearance.

All these buildings were not part of the initial plan submitted by CPWD to the environment ministry, official documents suggest. The original plan submitted involved only the common central secretariat and the central conference centre.

The application angered citizen groups, which were upset by the piecemeal approach taken towards implementing the Central Vista project.

The CPWD had received an environmental clearance for only one project as part of the Central Vista redevelopment — a parliament building. The clearance granted for that project is being challenged in the Supreme Court.

CPWD categorised the central secretariat and other buildings in question as a separate development (although they are a part of overall Central Vista project) for which a clearance hasn’t been granted. The first step is to apply for the terms of reference, which are approved by the EAC after an EIA is conducted. Based on the EIA, the EAC decides to approve or reject a project. That stage has not yet been reached in the case of the central secretariat project.

An EAC member said on condition of anonymity: “Though the parliament building has been approved separately, we don’t want to consider other parts of the same project in isolation. They have been asked to submit a consolidated proposal for all other related projects of the Central Vista redevelopment.”

The application for amending the terms of reference, available on the Parivesh website and seen by HT, suggests that the Prime Minister’s office, Prime Minister’s residence, vice-president’s enclave and Special Protection Group building were added to the proposal.

This led to an increase in the built-up area from 1,754,057.35 sqm to 1,837,057.35 sqm and a rise in waste water generation, municipal waste generation and investment cost from Rs 11,038 crore to Rs 11,794 crore.

The approval of the terms of reference is the initial clearance needed for any development project. Several citizens wrote to the chairman of the EAC, T Haque, to reject the application on grounds that it is only a part of the larger Central Vista Redevelopment Project, which was being pursued in a piecemeal manner, leading to improper assessment of its environmental impact.

“The project proponents have been taking advantage of laws and regulations by calling this ‘an evolving project’. Many new components of this project have come to light only due to public questioning. EAC has at least pushed for an integrated environmental assessment. Who will ask for a full cost and viability assessment? So far there has been no government disclosure on any of this,” said Manju Menon, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research think tank.

Haque did not respond to queries from HT on the return of CPWD’s application to amend the terms of reference.

CPWD did not respond to queries frrom HT on whether the department will put in place a consolidated plan for Central Vista Redevelopment Project.