Iran parliament approves bill to move capital from Tehran

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General view of Tehran's cityscape is seen from central Tehran

The Iranian parliament has approved a bill that authorizes investigating moving the country’s capital city to a location outside Tehran, a step that some inside the country see as necessary to address myriad problems that Tehran is facing, but was criticized by the administration as currently unfeasible.

Parliament voted with 110 votes in favor, 67 votes opposed and 10 abstentions to move the administrative and political capital from Tehran. According to the bill, officials from the administration will lead a committee including parliamentary and Tehran municipal officials to review and summarize the studies that have been done on the transfer of the capital.

Proponents of the bill say that Tehran is vulnerable to earthquakes and facing resource and pollution challenges. They say that 11% of Iran’s population is located in Tehran, but that the city accounts for 25% of the country’s wealth. That wealth continues to be centered in Tehran while smaller cities and villages continue to grow poorer, with major banking, construction and other industries centered in Tehran.

Those opposed to the bill said that instead of running away from the issues that have inflicted Tehran by moving the capital, it is better to fundamentally address the problems facing the city. They say that moving the administrative and political capital does not mean people will automatically move too, and that major steps need to be taken to assure the proper living conditions for the new suggested capital.

Majid Ansari, President Hassan Rouhani’s parliamentary deputy, said that the administration was also opposed to transferring the capital.

One of the reasons that officials have wanted to move the capital is that if Tehran is hit with a large earthquake, it could cripple the capital. Ansari suggested the move was cynical, asking if only the administrative and political institutions received that consideration, and whether the lives of millions of other people in Tehran matter. Other parliament members opposed to the bill said that many of Iran’s cities lie on fault lines as well. It is true that no other city is as heavily populated.

Ansari also addressed concerns that Tehran, whose wider metropolitan population exceeds 12 million, is running low on drinking water. He argued that Tehran is not the only city with this problem and many other cities in consideration for the new capital, such as Semnan, have also encountered problems with drinking water.

Ansari also held that the government does not have the budget for such a large move, saying, “It’s impossible even in 20 years, given the financial obstacles that we have in the country, to secure the minimum that is needed. In this years budget, many of the construction projects have remained half finished and many experts believe that in even in 20 years, many will not become operational.”

Ansari questioned putting the administration in charge of the committee to make a decision that is so significant for the entire system and all of its organs, and added that such a decision needs to be approved by the supreme leader.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani criticized the bill and said that the administration cannot be expected to cover the costs of moving the capital.

Image: A general view of the cityscape is seen from central Tehran, Feb. 22, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi