Central Vista: SC asks Delhi HC to consider early hearing
The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday refused to hear a petition on stopping construction work on the Central Vista project at Rajpath in Delhi in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The apex court, however, permitted the petitioners to make a request to the Delhi High Court (HC) for an early listing of the case. The SC bench comprised Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari.
Petitioners Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi had earlier approached the Delhi HC in this regard. However, the High Court had adjourned the matter to May 17. Advocate Siddharth Luthra—the petitioners' counsel—said the two approached the apex court as the HC had not issued a notice in its order and the adjournment was long in view of the national capital's COVID-19 crisis, LiveLaw reported.
The SC observed that it was "not inclined to enter into the merits of the case" since the matter was pending in the HC. The court asked Luthra to approach the HC on Monday and seek an urgent hearing in the matter. "We hope and trust that the High Court shall consider the request of early hearing and pass an order," it said.
The Narendra Modi government's investment in the Central Vista project - with an estimated cost of Rs. 13,450 crore - involves the construction of a new triangular Parliament building, a common Central Secretariat, and refurbishing a three-kilometer-long Rajpath from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.
The petitioners asked how construction could be deemed an essential activity amid a humanitarian crisis. "If the Vista project is deferred by four to six weeks, nothing will happen," the petitioners' counsel stated. Adding that even the Indian Premier League was suspended, he said the HC had deferred the matter to May 17, when the second COVID-19 wave is expected to peak.
The petition argues that the project has the potential of being a COVID-19 "super-spreader" and is in violation of the orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority. It says there is no rational basis to differentiate between construction work for the project and other construction work. If the work is stopped, the plea seeks directions to ensure that all workers are paid.
Even as Delhi has been in lockdown for nearly three weeks, NDTV reported that construction work near India Gate is permitted and some workers have been living on the site. Many workers were also found to be traveling from other parts of the city.
Meanwhile, appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta questioned the credentials of the petitioners and said that filing a special leave petition (SLP) against an adjournment "raises serious questions." "It sets a wrong precedent if adjournments are subject to SLPs...There appears to be some interest operating," he said. However, the bench said it would not look into the merits of the petitioners.
To recall, in a 2:1 verdict on January 5, the SC had allowed the redevelopment of New Delhi's Central Vista area and upheld the Centre's exercise of power as "just and valid." It rejected a batch of petitions that alleged violation of environmental norms.
The ambitious project received overall clearance from the Union Environment Ministry's expert appraisal committee (EAC) on May 3. The EAC report, which was made public on Monday, also specified the deadlines for the completion of each of the buildings that are a part of the Central Vista project. The PM's residence is slated to be completed by December 2022, the report mentioned.
Stop this construction use the money to provide oxygen and free vaccines to all Indians.— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) May 6, 2021
Grotesque that Modi continues construction to feed his megalomaniac vanity as people die gasping for breath. pic.twitter.com/SCUWKRcOMj
The Opposition Congress party has criticized the Centre for moving forth with the Central Vista project amid the pandemic and an economic slowdown. Referring to the Central Vista project as a "colossal waste of public money," the party has criticized the decision to bring the project under the ambit of essential services. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted that the project was "criminal wastage."
They want to distract people from monumental governance failures in their states by spreading lies. So they indulge in cheap politics despite knowing this project creates direct indirect employment for thousands of skilled, semi-skilled unskilled workers in these times.— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) May 7, 2021