Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created a furore after announcing a plan to build a multi-billion-dollar official prime minister’s residence in Delhi as the pandemic claims a record number of deaths daily.
The South Asian nation is reeling under a second wave of Covid-19 since the end of March. The population has plunged into despair, with India’s poorly funded healthcare system collapsing under the deluge of patients.
A government panel this week approved building a mammoth residence for Mr Modi. The project in the heart of the capital will cost 134 billion rupees (US 1.8 billion) and be ready by December this year.
The announcement stirred social media backlash and criticism against the government’s lavish plan, with many calling for all resources available to be ploughed into propping up the health system and assisting those hit by the pandemic.
New Delhi and other areas are pleading for overseas medical aid as hospitals struggle to cope with the waves of Covid-19 patients.
“This government is making a mockery of people’s misery,” said Daljit Singh, who found an ICU bed for his mother after two days of searching and being turned away from five hospitals in New Delhi.
“They have money for building massive residences when other homes and families are being destroyed because of the virus and lack of sufficient medical care.”
Mr Singh, 32, had driven around the city in his car with his mother wearing a mask fastened to an oxygen cylinder, as her saturation levels dropped to a dangerously low of 56 per cent.
Mr Modi’s grand prime minister’s residence is part of the government’s ambitious $2.8bn project to build a new Parliament complex and repurpose historical government buildings in Lutyen’s Delhi that once served as the seat of power for British rulers.
Spread over 3.2 kilometres, the project involves demolishing and rebuilding several government buildings, including landmarks, and building a new Parliament by India’s 75th Independence Day on August 15 next year.
The present Parliament structure, a massive circular building 560 feet in diameter, was built during British colonial rule 94 years ago. Mr Modi’s government plans to turn the structure into a museum.
The Bharatiya Janata Party government, known for spending billions on statues of freedom fighters and renaming historical cities and streets, had announced the grand Central Vista Redevelopment Project in 2019, justifying it on grounds of age and deterioration of the existing buildings.
“Landmark opportunity to build a people’s parliament for the first time after Independence,” Mr Modi said last December while laying the foundation stone of the triangle-shaped building.
The project, termed an “essential service”, was then criticised by opposition parties, historians, architects, and former bureaucrats as an attempt to erase institutional memories and historical buildings.
The latest announcement has sparked new controversy with critics as well as the opposition calling Mr Modi out for spending billions of dollars on a vanity project and highlighting his misplaced priorities during a health crisis.