A plea has been filed before the Delhi High Court to halt the construction of the Central Vista redevelopment project in view of the COVID-19 situation in the country and the threat posed by the construction work as a potential super spreader.
The petition questioned the decision of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Delhi to issue movement passes in the ‘essential services’ category to vehicles engaged in the development and redevelopment of Central Vista Avenue, allowing them to operate during curfew and lockdown in view of ‘exigencies of government work’.
“Petitioners are questioning why or how the Project constitutes an ‘essential service’, merely because some executive mandated contractual deadline has to be met. Further, it is the Petitioners’ respectful submission that in the current dismal scenario, this Project has no feature of “essentiality” for and/or of “service” to the public at large,” the plea said.
Further, the petition also claimed that the “relentless, unmindful and reckless act” of carrying on the project poses a threat to the lives of the citizens of Delhi and beyond, including the lives of the work force/labour engaged in the project.
The construction work has the potential of being a super spreader, and is in clear breach and violation of the orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, the petitioners submitted.
At a time when the city of Delhi is grappling with a devastating Coronavirus outbreak, all efforts, particularly by the State and its agencies, have to be towards controlling the spiralling situation. Carrying on such construction activities will negate those efforts, the petition said.
The matter came up for hearing on Wednesday before a Bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel, who said that the Bench wants to study the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in this regard before it hears the matter.
“We are not issuing notice,” the High Court clarified.
The matter was thus posted for hearing on May 17.
Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma said that he would file a response. Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra appeared for the petitioner.
The Centre’s redevelopment project envisages the Central Vista area of Lutyens Delhi by constructing a new Parliament House, a new residential complex that will house the Prime Minister and the Vice-President, as well as several new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to accommodate Ministry offices.
A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had, on January 5, given its green signal to the project, rejecting a batch of petitions challenging the scheme for alleged violation of land use and environmental norms.
The petitioners before the Supreme Court had 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, assailed the alterations envisaged by the Centre, arguing that they involve 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 submitted that the power for bringing about such changes, if at all, lies with the Central government.
Another petitioner, Lt Col (retd) Anuj Srivastava, challenged the public hearings held to raise objections to the exercise, arguing that they were a mere formality devoid of any meaningful consequence.
The Supreme Court by a 2:1 majority held that the exercise of the power under the Delhi Development Authority Act was just and valid and that the grant of environmental clearances by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change was also valid and proper.
“Selection and appointment of environmental consultant in the case is held to be just and proper. Modifications regarding change in land use stand confirmed,” Justice AM Khanwilkar read out the majority judgment on behalf of himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari.
Importantly, Justice Sanjiv Khanna dissented from the majority opinion on the point of change of land use associated with the project. He held that while the award of the project cannot be faulted with, prior approval of the heritage committee was required when it came to change in land use.
“I have agreed with brother judge, Justice Khanwilkar on notice inviting bid and award of project.
However, on the question of grant of change of land use, I have a different opinion. I have held that the same was bad in law. There was no prior approval of Heritage Conservation Committee and thus matter is remitted back for public hearing. On the environmental clearance aspect, it was a non-speaking order,” Justice Khanna said in his dissenting opinion.