In the first landmark ruling of the year 2021, a three judge Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari with Justice Sanjiv Khanna’s dissent, has given a go ahead to New Delhi’s Central Vista Project, reported Bar & Bench.
It rejected several petitions that challenged the scheme for alleged violation of land use and environmental standards. The majority judgement that was authored by Justice Khanwilkar and on behalf of Justice Maheshwari held that the exercise of the power under the Delhi Development Authority Act was ‘just and valid’ and that the grant of environmental clearances by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change was also ‘valid and proper’.
Justice Khanwilkar read out, “Selection and appointment of environmental consultant in the case is held to be just and proper. Modifications regarding change in land use stand confirmed.” Very importantly, Justice Sanjiv Khanna dissented from this opinion on the point of change of land use associated with the project emphasising that prior approval of the heritage committee was required when it came to change in land use.
However, he agreed with his fellow judges on the award of the project. He said, “I have agreed with brother judge, Justice Khanwilkar on notice inviting bid and award of project. However, on the question of grant of change of land use, I have a different opinion. I have held that the same was bad in law. There was no prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee and thus matter is remitted back for public hearing. On the environmental clearance aspect, it was a non-speaking order.”
This ambitious project envisages an entire revamp of the parliament building that is to be constructed by August 2022, when the country will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day. The project also covers the three-km stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Lutyens’ Delhi.
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. This notification allowed the construction of a new Parliament building and other projects under the umbrella of the Central Vista project.
The petitioners claimed in their plea that the DDA did not have the authority to bring about such changes in land use. In addition to the point of land use, Ms. Meena Gupta, a former Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests, also filed an intervention application in the pending case highlighting environmental concerns due to the redevelopment.
Before the court, the Government represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had contended 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. He also cited security concerns, highlighting the 2001 Parliament attack.
The top court heard arguments till the first week of November reserving its judgment on November 5, 2020. With the green signal of the court, the Gujarat-based architecture firm HCP Designs that won the consultancy bid for the project to redevelop the entire Central Vista Project, may start work soon. On the other hand, Tata Projects Limited that won the bid to construct the new parliament building at a cost of Rs 861.90 crore in September, 2019 may also begin work.
According to the Economic Times, the HCP Designs will prepare the master plan of the project, including designs, cost estimation, landscape and traffic integration plans, and parking facilities among others. HPC designs that is led by architect Bimal Patel, has developed several projects, including the Sabarmati Riverfront Development, the Central Vista at Gandhinagar and the Mumbai Port Complex.