Central Vista project: Centre tells SC new Parliament building needed as existing one old, unsafe & small

Urging the court to quash the govt’s March 2020 notification, the instant plea avers that the decision was in violation of a citizen’s extended version of Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21

Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @barandbench
Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @barandbench

NH Web Desk

The Centre has filed a Counter Affidavit in the plea seeking for a stay against the Central Vista project which sets out to build a new Parliament and other Central Government offices in Lutyens Delhi, legal news website LiveLaw.in has reported.

The Counter Affidavit submits at the outset that the Central Vista Development/Redevelopment Plan was proposed in order to meet the present and future needs of space for the Parliament, Ministries and Departments, as well as to provide better public facilities, amenities, parking facilities et al. Citing fire safety, acoustics concern, the Counter refers to the dilapidated condition of the century-year old construction to shed a light on the need for the Redevelopment plan.

"..fire safety is a major concern as the building is not designed according to the present fire norms. There are several other safety issues also.

The audio visual system within the Parliament is old. The acoustics of the hall is not effective. The electrical, air-conditioning and plumbing systems are inadequate, inefficient, costly to operate and maintain. Since the systems are mostly later additions and not a part of the original design, energy efficiency is also poor", states the 117- page affidavit filed by Executive Engineer of Central Public Works Department.

Further stating that the number of seats in Lok Sabha will likely increase substantially after 2026, the Counter states that both the Houses of the Parliament are "packed to capacity and have no space for addition of seats if the Parliament is expanded. The seating arrangements are cramped and cumbersome, there are no desks beyond second row and movement is extremely constrained".

The affidavit states that the project will address not only the space requirement but will also "facilitate to keep and maintain the existing iconic building intact as a symbol of vibrant democracy".

"The new Parliament building to house our nation's bicameral legislature with complete indigenous technology, knowledge and expertise will be a showcase to the rest of the world. This building will be constructed with enhanced structural life, which will last for centuries. Therefore, this project will become a symbol of national pride and inspire citizens to participate in the democratic traditions of India", the counter says.

The Counter also rejects the contention that the process adopted by the Central Vista Committee was not transparent and open as the meeting had taken place without the concurrence of all the members. It is submitted that due to the pandemic, a few members could not attend the meeting, however, had there been any reservation on the no objection granted by the CVC, they were free to voice their dissent.

Environmental clearance granted The Counter submits that following the recommendation by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on April 22, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) on 17th June, granted environmental clearance for the new parliament building with specific conditions.

It is to be noted that the environmental clearance is subject to the outcome of the proceedings of the Special Leave Petition pending before the Supreme Court.

It has been stated that the Petitioner wrongly alleged that the proposed expansion and modernization of the Parliament Building was "purposely managed in a manner so as to somehow circumvent existing regulations and do away with Public Consultation".

The Counter goes on to showcase that the clearances were granted by two independent agencies/authorities, and the "Approvals/No Objections" were granted only after detailed deliberations and after following the due process. "It is once again reiterated that the 'No Objection' of CVC was granted on 23.04.2020 and the 'Environment Clearance' was conveyed on 17.06.2020 based on EAC's recommendation in the meeting held on 22.04.2020. Thus, it is amply clear that the contention of the Petitioner that both the clearances were granted on the same date i.e. 01.05.2020, a day after the 30.04.2020 order of this Hon'ble Court, is entirely incorrect," it says.

The affidavit also states that no public consultation was required before grant of environmental clearance as the project came under B category as per the 2006 EIA notification.

On 17th July, the Supreme Court had directed the Respondents to file a consolidated Reply in 10 days in the plea challenging the use of land for the Central Vista project. A Bench headed by Justice UU Lalit observed that it was not the time for formalities, but it was time to do substantial justice, when Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde had requested for the issuance of notice in the plea.

The plea contends that 20th March notification of the government, which supersedes a Public Notice issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on 19 December, 2019, is a subjugation of the Rule of Law and judicial protocol as the 2019 notice is currently sub judice before the Supreme Court.

With regard to the Government's Rs. 20,000 crore Central Vista project, the DDA had issued a Public Notice inviting objections against proposed changes in land use in December 2019.

This notification was challenged before the Delhi High Court on account of being ultra vires Section 11A of the Delhi Development Act 1957, as well as being beyond the powers of DDA to do so. It was further contested that the plan was not in conformity with the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 (MPD2021) and in violation of "larger laws of the country".

On March 6, a Bench comprising of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari transferred the matter to itself.

On March 20, 2020 the Centre notified a change in land use pertaining to approximately 86 acres of land in the heart of Lutyens Delhi, marked by structures like the Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, North Block and South Block amongst others. The same petitioner then moved the apex court with a fresh plea against the Centre's notification.

Urging the court to quash the March 2020 notification issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the instant plea avers that the decision was in violation of a citizen's extended version of Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21. Calling it a brash move, the plea claims that it would deprive people of enjoying highly treasured open and green spaces.

"(The notification) is violative of Article 21 of Constitution of India and, violates the extended version of Article 21 the Right to life, guaranteed by the Constitution of India. That Respondent No. 1 brashly issued Notification No. SO 1192 (E) dated 20th March 2020, changing land use, which will deprive residents of Delhi and citizens of India a vast chunk of highly treasured open and green space in the Central Vista area, available for public, semi-public, social and recreational activity, stands against Article 21, Right to Life the right to enjoyment of a wholesome life," it says.

The plea further invokes Article 49 of the Constitution to assert that the State is obligated to protect places and objects of national importance. Citing the Public Trust Doctrine to buttress this point, the plea urges that it is "upon the State to protect such resources for the use of the general public, rather than to permit it only for use of a certain class or section of the people."

On April 30, the Supreme Court refused to stay the project, stating that "during COVID-19, nobody is going to do anything", referring to possible construction on the allocated land.

On 19 June, the Central Government informed the Supreme Court that it could not give an assurance that no work on the ground would be done with respect to the Central Vista project, despite Hegde submitting that administrative clearances were being given, with no objections. The Bench, however, raised the question whether the apex court could restrain the authorities from acting as per the law.

The matter will now be taken up on July 23rd.

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