On December 7, the Supreme Court clarified that the Central Government cannot go ahead with the construction, demolition of any structure, including felling of trees in relation to the Central Vista Project that envisages the construction of a new additional Parliament building and a revamp of Rajpath including the South and North blocks of the Central Secretariat.
However, the top court Bench allowed the Centre to proceed with the paperwork of the project and the foundation stone laying ceremony of the proposed new Parliament building on December 10.
The matter was listed before a three-judge Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna for directions after the Bench noticed some developments in the public domain. The Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta appeared for the Centre.
The Indian Express had reported on December 6, that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay its foundation stone on December 10 and that the grand ceremony will be attended by leaders and representatives of all parties who will be present physically or via virtual mode.
According to LiveLaw, the court rebuked the Centre for its “aggressive” pace with its ambitious project despite the matter of its legality being sub-judice. Justice A.M Khanwilkar remarked, “We thought we are dealing with a prudent litigant and deference will be shown. Just because there is no stay it does not mean that you can go ahead with everything.”
Also, there were reports last week of cutting down trees and removing structures in connection with the Central Vista project, that the Bench took note of. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta apprised the court that he will get instructions from the Government, seeking time till tomorrow but the court insisted that he get back today itself.
The court reiterated to the SG, “We have shown deference to you and expected that you will act in a prudent manner. The same deference should be shown to the Court and there should be no demolition or construction.”
As further reported by LiveLaw, the SG got back to the Bench and said, “My sincere apologies to the Lordships. I can make a statement that there will be no construction, demolition or felling of trees. Foundation stone will be laid. But, no physical change.”
The court recorded the SG’s statements and said, “This matter was listed suo moto and after interacting with SG, the Court is making the order. The SG has made the statement that there will be no construction or demolition on the concerned sites, or translocation of trees; this will also be kept in abeyance. List the SG’s statement on record. We clarify in view of the above that the authorities will be free to undertake other formal processes without altering the site in any manner, including continuing with a scheduled programme of foundation stone on 10th December.”
The petitioners had challenged a notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 21, 2019 regarding changes in land use for the redevelopment before the Supreme Court. The notification paved the way for the construction of a new Parliament building and other projects in the prestigious Central Vista project. The petitioners have claimed in their plea that the DDA does not have the authority to bring about such changes in land use.
Ms. Meena Gupta, a former Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests, had filed an intervention application in the pending case highlighting environmental concerns due to the redevelopment.
During the November 2 hearing before the apex court, the Solicitor General argued that the construction of a new Parliament building and Central Secretariat have become an absolute necessity due to the stress on the present ones. He had also submitted that the current Parliament building, which was opened in 1927, does not adhere to fire safety norms, has a serious space crunch, and is not earthquake-proof.
According to Bar and Bench, he said, “There is an imminent need to have a new Parliament building. The current building was built in 1927 prior to independence and was intended to house the legislative council and not a bicameral legislature we have today. The building does not conform to fire safety norms and water and sewer lines are also haphazard which is damaging the heritage nature of the building. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are packed. When joint sessions are held, members sit on plastic chairs diminishing the dignity of the House.”
The Government has also cited security concerns, highlighting the 2001 Parliament attack and that all necessary approvals including environmental clearances were in place and the project cannot be scrapped merely because the petitioners felt a better process or method could have been adopted.