Central Vista: SC nod for foundation ceremony, but with riders
The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Centre to proceed with the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Central Vista project on December 10 after the government assured it that no construction or demolition work would commence till the apex court decides the pending pleas on the issue.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar that there would be only foundation stone-laying ceremony, and no construction, demolition or felling of trees would be done for the project as of now.
The Central Vista revamp, announced in September last year, envisages a new triangular Parliament building, with seating capacity for 900 to 1,200 MPs, that is to be constructed by August, 2022 when the country will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day.
The common Central Secretariat is likely to be built by 2024 under the project against which various pleas have been filed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone on December 10 for the new Parliament building and the construction is expected to be completed by 2022 at an estimated cost of Rs 971 crore, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had said on December 5.
This matter was listed suo moto in view of certain developments. After interacting with the Solicitor General and when the concern of the court was expressed, on instructions, the Solicitor General stated that there will be no construction activity of any nature on the concerned site(s) nor demolition of any structure will be done, including the further trans-location of the tree(s) will be kept in abeyance, until the pronouncement of judgment in all these cases, said the bench.
We take that statement on record. In view of the above, we clarify that the authorities would be free to continue with procedural processes without altering the status of the site(s) in question in any manner, including to continue with the scheduled programme of foundation stone-laying on December 10, 2020, the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, said in its order.
The top court is seized of pleas which have raised questions over several aspects, including the environmental clearance granted to the project.
During the hearing conducted on Monday through video-conferencing, the bench asked Mehta to apprise it within five minutes about the government's view on the issue of construction work for the project.
The bench observed that it would not allow construction or demolition till its decision on the pending pleas opposing the project.
The top court said however that the Centre can proceed with the requisite paperwork in the meantime.
On November 5, the apex court had reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas which have raised questions over the Centre's ambitious Central Vista project, which covers three km stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in Lutyens' Delhi.
Mehta had earlier argued in the top court that the project would "save money" which is paid as rent for housing central government ministries in the national capital.
Mehta had submitted that the decision to have a new Parliament building has not been taken in haste and no law or norms have been violated in any manner for the project.
The Centre had also said there was no arbitrariness or favouritism in selecting a consultant for the project and the argument that the government could have adopted a better process cannot be a ground to scrap the project.
Gujarat-based architecture firm HCP Designs has won the consultancy bid for the project to redevelop the Central Vista.
The top court is hearing several pleas on the issue, including the one filed by activist Rajeev Suri, against various permissions given to the project by authorities including the nod to change of land use.
Earlier, the apex court had said that any change at the ground level made by authorities for the Central Vista project will be "at their own risk".
It had made it clear that the fate of the project, which includes several new government buildings and a new Parliament House, will depend on its decision.
The pleas have also challenged the grant of a no-objection certificate by the Central Vista Committee (CVC) and also the environmental clearances for the construction of a new parliament house building.
One of the pleas was filed against a Delhi High Court order which had said the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was not required to apprise it before notifying changes in the Master Plan to allow the Central Vista project.
The division bench of the Delhi High Court had on February 28 stayed an order of its single judge bench which had asked the DDA to approach the court before notifying any change in the Master Plan for going forth with the Centre's ambitious project to redevelop the Central Vista.
The stay order of the high court on the single-judge bench's February 11 direction had come on the intra-court appeal of the DDA and the Centre.
The petitioners before the high court had opposed the Central Vista project on the ground that it involves a change in land use of the green area adjoining Rajpath and Vijay Chowk for building new Parliament and government offices.