The Supreme Court on Monday clarified that the Central government could not carry out any construction or demolition activities as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project till the Supreme Court pronounces its judgment in the petitions challenging the project. A three-judge Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and Sanjiv Khanna said that the government is free to go ahead with the foundation stone laying ceremony.
An order to that effect was passed after the Central government, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, undertook that no construction, demolition, or felling of trees will be carried out till the Court decides the case one way or the other.
The top court clarified after it listed the case for hearing suo motu except the government’s plan to begin construction activities.
“We thought we are dealing with a prudent litigant and that deference will be shown. We never thought you would go ahead so aggressively with construction. We don’t mind if you do paperwork or lay the foundation stone, but no construction should be done,” the court told Mehta when the matter came up for hearing.
The Central Vista area in Lutyen’s Delhi houses iconic buildings like the Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the North and South Block buildings, and the India Gate.
Before the Supreme Court, the petitioners have challenged a notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 21, 2019, regarding changes in land use for the redevelopment.
One of the petitioners, Rajeev Suri, has assailed the alterations envisaged by the centre, arguing that it involves changes to land use and standards of population density and that the DDA is not vested with the requisite power to bring about such changes. He has submitted that bringing about such changes if at all, lies with the central government.
Another petitioner, Lt. Col (Retd.) Anuj Srivastava has challenged the public hearings to raise objections to the exercise, arguing that they were a mere formality devoid of any meaningful consequence.
An intervenor, Meena Gupta, former Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests, filed an intervention application in the pending case highlighting environmental concerns due to the redevelopment.
During the hearing of the matter in the first week of November, the Central government had defended the project claiming that construction of a new Parliament building and Central Secretariat has become an absolute necessity due to the stress on the present ones.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said that the current Parliament building, which was opened in 1927, does not adhere to fire safety norms, has a severe space crunch, and is not earthquake-proof.
There is an imminent need to have a new Parliament building. The current building was built in 1927 before independence and was intended to house the legislative council and not the bicameral legislature we have today. The building does not conform to fire safety norms, and water and sewer lines are also haphazard, which is damaging the heritage nature of the building. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are packed. When joint sessions are held, members sit on plastic chairs diminishing the dignity of the House,” Mehta had submitted on November 3.
Once there is an increase in the number of seats of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha after the new census to be conducted next year, the building will be under stress, Mehta added. He had also cited security concerns, highlighting the 2001 Parliament attack.
Regarding the construction of the new Central Secretariat, the Centre underscored the need to bring all essential ministry offices under one single building.
“We have to run around the city to go to different ministries, increasing traffic and pollution. The policy decision is that all Central ministries have to be at one place and that place has to be one which has historical significance”, Mehta had contended.
It was also the government’s argument that all necessary statutory approvals, including environmental clearances, were in place, and the project cannot be scrapped merely because the petitioners felt a better process or method could have been adopted.
Unless there was any violation of Constitutional or legal provisions, the court should refrain from scrapping the project. There was no occasion warranting judicial interference in the present case, Mehta had told the Court.
He had also found support from Senior Counsel Harish Salve, who, on behalf of the project consultant, HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt Ltd., told the court on Thursday that it should be circumspect when interfering with policy decisions taken by the executive.