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SC declines to interfere with Central Vista redevelopment

The Supreme Court on Friday declined to interfere with the Central Vista redevelopment project in view of the fact that the Delhi High Court is already seized of the matter.

A Bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari, however, granted petitioner liberty to mention the matter before the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court for early hearing.

The Court also asked the High Court to consider the plea for early hearing favourably.

“Since the matter is pending before High Court and appeal is against order of adjournment, we are not inclined to enter into the merits of the case. In the given circumstance, we request Shri Luthra or any other counsel to make request before the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court on Monday to take up the matter as urgently as possible.

We hope and trust that High Court shall consider the prayer for early hearing,” the Court ordered.

The order was passed on a petition seeking halt on the construction activities of Central Vista redevelopment in view of the COVID-19 surge in the national capital and the consequent threat posed by the same to labourers involved in the construction.

“We are facing a humanitarian health crisis. If we this project is deferred by 4 to 6 weeks nothing will happen. We suspended IPL. We have a situation where spread of COVID is unprecedented,” Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra submitted on behalf of the petitioners.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Central government, submitted that the petitioner coming to court by way of a PIL and filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against an adjournment order of the High Court raises serious doubt.

An appeal against an adjournment would set a wrong precedent, he added.

The Centre’s redevelopment project in the Central Vista area of Lutyens Delhi envisages 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 in the present case have sought halt on the construction due to COVID-19 situation in the national capital and the threat posed by the construction work as a potential super spreader.

The petitioners had initially approached the Delhi High Court which had adjourned the matter for May 17 without passing any orders prompting the petitioners to move the apex court.

The petitioners stated that the urgency and public health emergency sought to be addressed by the petition would stand defeated by adjourning the matter to May 17.

The very purpose of the petition is to seek a direction to the Respondents to forthwith, stop back and forth movement of workers by buses from Sarai Kale Khan, Karol Bagh, Kirti Nagar and other areas around Delhi (where they reside with their families) to the site of the construction activity at the ‘Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project’ (hereinafter referred to as “the Project”) during the subsistence of this peak phase of the pandemic in New Delhi, when oxygen is in short supply and the healthcare system is in total collapse,” the plea said.

When the matter was heard on Friday, Sidharth Luthra highlighted, that the matter is not adversarial in nature and involves human lives which are at stake.

“I really don’t understand how construction can be an essential activity when it puts lives of workers in danger and put more pressure on health care system,” Luthra submitted.

He was referring to how Central Vista construction was exempted from the present curfew in the national capital on the ground that Central vista project is an “essential service”.

The petitioners also submitted that they do not intend to overreach the Supreme Court judgment which had given green signal for the project.

They said that they are merely seeking a temporary halt on the construction work on account of the present public health crisis in the national capital.

The plea contended that there is no rationale for classifying the Central Vista Project as an “essential service”, merely because some executive mandated contractual deadline is ostensibly required be met.

“In the current dismal scenario, this Project has no feature of “essentiality” for and/or of “service” to the public at large. In the absence of provision of on-site accommodation in this Project the impugned acts are totally contrary to and in gross violation of the Orders issued in the public interest by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority,” the petition submitted.

The Court, however, declined to interfere considering the fact that the High Court was already seized of the issue.

 

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