With India running out of essential supplies to treat millions of COVID-19 cases, the main opposition leader called out Prime Minister Narendra Modi for continuing to invest in a $1.7 billion government complex and private palace, which is being built by thousands of laborers in central New Delhi as the pandemic rages around them.
On Tuesday, opposition leader Priyanka Gandhi, the daughter of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, claimed in a Twitter post that crucial funds are being “diverted for the construction of a new house for the prime minister.”
“When the people of the country are struggling with shortage of oxygen, vaccines, hospital beds, medicines, then it would be better if the government put all the resources in the work of saving the lives of the people, instead of constructing a new house of 13,000 crores,” she said.
The massive spread is called the Central Vista Revamp project—scheduled to be completed in December 2022—and work is continuing despite calls for a national lockdown as the coronavirus crisis worsens.
Modi hopes the palatial enclave in downtown Delhi will be a lasting testament to his administration. The campus, which is the size of 50 football fields, will include a new parliament, 10 buildings dedicated to government offices and conference space, 10 buildings for the prime minister’s private residence, and a further 29 buildings for the vice president’s special digs, according to the Indian Express. The complex also includes nine sewage treatment centers and the removal and transplantation of several thousand trees.
Earlier this week, Modi deemed the construction on the site in the heart of New Delhi an essential service, so the nearly 6,000 workers can skirt lockdown rules, despite a 30 percent positive test rate in the congested city.
In 2021, Modi renamed the largest sports stadium in the world after himself, having spent more than $110 million on what is supposed to be the world’s finest cricket stadium.
On Tuesday, the Indian Premier League suspended its cricket season indefinitely after several players contracted COVID-19, despite attempting to adhere to bio-secure bubbles. The annual tournament features the best players from all over the planet, including stars from England, South Africa, the Caribbean, and Australia, whose government has banned citizens from returning home. It is unclear how the stranded sports stars will find passage out of India. Australian players face heavy fines if they return to Australia, which has closed the country to anyone coming from India until at least May 15.
Many countries have banned all flights from India, which has experienced the worst example of a collapsed health-care system anywhere since the pandemic began in March 2020. The world’s largest democracy has continued to log between 350,000 and 400,000 new infections daily for the last two weeks. Shortages of hospital beds, supplies, oxygen, and firewood for cremations has added to the nightmare scenario and directly contributed to thousands of deaths.
A group of scientific experts told Reuters they had warned the government of an emerging new variant back in March, but Modi’s government ignored them, choosing instead to claim victory over the virus. “Policy has to be based on evidence and not the other way around,” Shahid Jameel, chair of the scientific advisory group INSACOG, told Reuters. “I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists we provide the evidence, policy-making is the job of the government.”
Modi has been criticized for pushing ahead with regional elections and huge campaign rallies, which he held just last month. The religious festival Kumbh Mela was also allowed to go ahead, with millions of Hindu worshippers gathering for a holy dip in the Ganges river.