Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday took a swipe at the Opposition after inaugurating two new defence office complexes constructed at a cost of Rs 775 crore in Delhi as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project.

The Rs 20,000-crore project, which aims to redevelop a stretch in the heart of Lutyens Delhi, has been criticised right from the beginning as an exercise in vanity. Opposition leaders have even described it as a “criminal wastage” and asked the Modi government to focus on people’s lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The new office complexes inaugurated on Thursday will replace the 700 huts spread over 50 acres on Raisina Hills from where the defence ministry used to operate earlier.

Modi said that he was surprised that the defence ministry operated from World War II-era huts, whose condition he claimed was dilapidated. He accused the Opposition of caring more about “personal agendas” than the condition of government offices and ministries, NDTV reported.

“We all saw how some people tried to sabotage the important Central Vista project... how they ran personal agendas to spread misinformation,” the prime minister said. “But not once did they speak about the condition of these hutments from where our ministries work. If they had done so, their lies and agendas would have been exposed.”

Modi said the new offices show that his government was giving India’s armed forces “highest priority and honour”.

“This is a big step towards the construction of a modern defence ministry enclave in the capital,” he said. “[It will] further strengthen our efforts to make the working [conditions] of our armed forces more convenient and more effective.”

The prime minister said that modern infrastructure will play an important role in ease of living and ease of doing business. “This is the spirit at the core of the work being done today related to Central Vista,” he added.

Criticism of Central Vista project

Leaders from 12 opposition parties had asked Modi to suspend the work on the Central Vista project in May, when the second wave of coronavirus was raging in India. They wanted the funds to be diverted towards purchase of oxygen and vaccines which were not sufficiently available at that time.

However, the construction of the project in the national capital was deemed an “essential service”, meaning its work was allowed to continue during the lockdown.

The Narendra Modi government in May had claimed that it was maintaining Covid-19 protocol at the site, which included masking up, sanitisation and thermal screening, and that it had arranged for testing, medical aid and isolation in the event someone fell ill. It also claimed that contractors had provided health insurance to their workers.

However, had found that three workers at the construction site have tested positive for the infection. Many also complained of cramped living conditions – inside tents, tin sheds, metal containers – that had made physical distancing impossible.

In June, the Supreme Court had refused stay a Delhi High Court order that allowed the construction to proceed despite the coronavirus pandemic.