Central Vista: Project of national importance, public vitally interested in it, says Delhi HC

Petitioners’ counsel further pointed out that the project is now completely off access and it is difficult to determine if the steps, so assured by the Centre, have actually been taken

Is India's grand Central Vista project too extravagant?
Is India's grand Central Vista project too extravagant?

NH Web Desk

The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed a petition seeking a direction to the Central government to stop the ongoing construction of the Central Vista Project in the national capital in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh ruled that the work currently ongoing is part and parcel of project and of vital importance and can't be seen in isolation.

"It is an essential project of national importance. Public is vitally interested in the project," the court said.

The court further said that petition is not a genuine public interest litigation petition but a "motivated" one and proceeded to impose costs of Rs. 1 lakh on the petitioners

"They have to complete the construction before November 2021. Time is of essence. Once workers are staying at site and all facilities are provided and COVID 19 behaviour are adhered to, no reason to stop the project. This is not e genuine PIL," the court observed, Bar & Bench reported.

The petitioners in the instant case, Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi, had sought a stay on the construction of Central Vista due to the COVID-19 situation in the national capital and the threat posed by the construction work as a potential super spreader.

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

‘Right to life paramount’

Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra pleaded that right to life and health is of paramount significance and hence, the project may be halted in view of rising number of COVID-19 cases.

He submitted that the authorities have not bothered to respond as to why the Central Vista project has been called an 'essential service' during the pandemic.

"What we are concerned with is life and health of people at site and construction workers, and of people of Delhi," he said.

He submitted that about 400 workers are being ferried from Sarai Kale Khan to the construction site in buses. "There were 180 buses as per reports which hasn't been refuted and 400 workers were being taken daily, excluding the guards, security etc," he pointed out.

He stated that there is no document on record to indicate the government's willingness to make on site accommodations and COVID compliant facilities at the site, as they have claimed.

He pointed out the photographs and stated that there are no beds, empty tents have been shown. Further, video report indicate that 7 persons are shoved into one room, he said, as per a Live Law report.

"There aren't going to be just these workers on site, there'll be other workers as well who will go back to their families. What about their families? What about all of us?" he appealed to the Bench.

Labelling Central Vista as the 'Central Fortress of Death', Luthra further pointed out that the project is now completely off access and it is difficult to determine if the steps, so assured by the Centre, have actually been taken. There is no publicly available material.

The Central government opposed the plea, stating that the construction activities currently ongoing in and around Rajpath and India Gate do not pertain to the new Parliament building or new offices for the Central government.

Instead, the current construction is with respect to public spaces visited by people and tourists at Raj Path and includes building public amenities like new toilet blocks, parking spaces, pedestrian underpasses etc, it contended.

The Centre also claimed that contrary to the claims of the petitioner, there was a medical facility at the site and that workers will have access to such medical facility. It said that all the construction activities happen in strict compliance with COVID protocol.

It described the PIL as a "facade to disguise something they always wanted to stop under one pretext or the other."

The 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.

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