Parliament renovation project: COVID-19 no hurdle, govt grants environmental clearance
Civil society groups had objected that expansion of Parliament was being treated as a stand-alone project when it is only one part of the proposed redevelopment of the Central Vista heritage precinct
The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has recommended granting of Environmental Clearance (EC) to the expansion and renovation of the existing Parliament building, reports LiveLaw.in.
The new Parliament building is part of Centre's ambitious Rs. 20,000 crore "Central Vista Project", which is under challenge in an on-going case in the Supreme Court. This comes just a couple of days after the Supreme Court refused to grant a stay to the project while hearing a petition challenging the change of land use by the government for the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista redevelopment project, observing that the project would not commence in view of the of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Supreme Court on April 30 declined a prayer to stay the Central Vista project in a fresh plea challenging it. "During COVID-19 situation, nobody is going to do anything and there is no urgency", CJI S A Bobde had remarked then.
The petition challenged land use for the Central Vista project, alleging that the project covering 86 acre in Lutyens' zone is a "brash move" and will deprive people enjoying open and green spaces.
The court later allowed the petitioner, Rajeev Suri, to withdraw the petition, with liberty to amend the previous writ petition pending in the SC which challenged the earlier notification issued in December 2019 with respect to the Central Vista Project.
The EAC, in its meetings held between April 22 to 24, recommended granting of clearance subject to conditions, one of them being that the project will be subject to the outcome of the decision of the SC. It noted that there was no stay on the project.
Before the EAC, the project proponent, the Central Public Works Department, stated, "A larger parliament building for the Nation is needed for better functioning of the legislature".
“The project will also provide short term as well as long term employment opportunities. It is envisioned that proposed project will also
make a positive contribution to social infrastructure and overall development of the region", the CPWD stated as the benefits of the project.
The new building is proposed in an area of 21.25 acres at an estimated cost of Rs 922 crores.
‘Minor and incremental environmental impact'
The EAC noted that "expansion of the new Parliament Building will lead to environmental impacts, that are, if at all, minor and incremental".
"There will be no significant impacts on ecology since trees that require to be transplanted will be sent to holding nurseries for the time being...There will be no significant impacts on public space whatsoever due to the proposed Parliament expansion", the EAC further noted.
The project proponent informed the EAC that 333 trees exist at the plot. Out of these, 100 trees to be retained and 233 trees to be transplanted and no trees will be cut. In addition, other vegetation, growing in the plot will also require to be cleared to develop the new Parliament Building. 290 trees are proposed to be planted on the plot.
Civil society groups had raised an objection that application treats the expansion of the Parliament as a stand-alone project when it is only one part of the proposed redevelopment of the Central Vista heritage precinct.
It was also contended by them that treatment of the Parliament expansion as a separate project violates the MoEF&CC's OM dated (No. J-11013/41/2006-IA (I)) for 'consideration of integrated and inter-related projects for grant of environmental clearance'.
In response, the EAC said: "Integrated and inter-related projects referred to in the MoEF&CC OM (No. J11013/41/2006-IA (I)) are those projects without which the necessary functional outcome of the proposed project cannot be achieved. For example, such projects would include a captive power plant attached to a coal mine, or a jetty attached to a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminal.
The proposed Parliament Building cannot therefore be considered as an integrated and interrelated project vis-à-vis the other proposed central vista buildings for the simple reason that it already exists, and it can definitely operate independently of the other structures".
Cultural heritage of existing building
Another point of objection was that the application completely disregards the "historical, cultural and social importance" of the existing Parliament by treating its "expansion and renovation" as any other regular construction project.
This concern was discarded by the EAC stating: "The project proponents are aware of the heritage value of the Parliament Building. It is precisely because of the need to protect its heritage value, besides other practical aspects such as seating more members for the future and providing them with necessary infrastructure, that the project has been conceived"
"Once the Parliament expansion is carried out as proposed, the proposed project aims to undertake necessary structural and other activities required to sustain the existing Parliament Building for use by future generations of Indians", the EAC further said.
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.
On February 11, while hearing a challenge against the December notification, a single bench of the Delhi HC had directed that the Delhi
Development Authority should get approach the court before notifying the proposed land-use changes in Central Vista. This was in a writ petition filed by Rajeev Suri (who is the petitioner in the fresh plea before the SC). This was stayed by a division bench of the Delhi High Court on February 28, in appeals filed by the Centre and the DDA.
Earlier, a division bench of the Delhi High Court had stayed a Single Judge Bench order, directing the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to approach the court. Aggrieved by the Division Bench order, and apprehending that the DDA may notify the proposed land-use changes, Rajeev Suri approached the SC.
On March 6, a bench comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari transferred the writ petition in the High Court to the SC.
"...in larger public interest, we deem it appropriate that the entire matter pertaining to challenge pending before the High Court is heard and decided by this court expeditiously", the bench had observed then.
It was also clarified by the bench that any steps taken by the authorities, in the meantime, will be subject to the outcome of the proceedings.