Supreme Court frowns on vista work, allows PM’s event
The Supreme Court on Monday rapped the Centre for continuing construction and tree relocations for the Central Vista project despite the matter being under its scrutiny, but allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lay the foundation stone for a new Parliament House on December 10.
The three-judge bench, however, recorded an undertaking from the government that no further construction, demolition or tree removals would be taken up until the court had decided on a batch of public interest petitions seeking scrapping of the project.
“It should not be a fait accompli to the court. Some deference should be shown to the court,” the bench, headed by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, told solicitor-general Tushar Mehta after taking cognisance of news reports about continuing construction and tree removals for the project.
“We thought we were dealing with a prudent litigant (the Centre) and deference will be shown to the matter being heard,” the bench, which included Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, added.
The project, estimated to cost over Rs 20,000 crore, aims to erect new buildings for Parliament, the central secretariat and the residences of the Prime Minister and the Vice-President.
“Just because there is no stay it does not mean that you can go head-on with everything…. We expected that you will also act in a prudent manner — there should be no demolition or construction,” Justice Khanwilkar said.
“You can lay the foundation stone, you can carry on paperwork but no construction or demolition, no cutting down any trees…. We expected that you will continue with paperwork, etc, but not move forward so aggressively that you will start construction.”
Justice Khanwilkar added: “We did not pass any clear stay order because we thought you are a prudent litigant, and you will show deference to the court. The news items in public domain show you are starting construction.”
Mehta apologised and the hearing was briefly halted so he could seek instructions from the government.
After proceedings resumed, Mehta assured the court that no further construction, demolition or tree removals would be taken up without the court’s consent.
“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 10th December, 2020,” the court order said.
Environmentalists and other NGOs have moved a raft of public interest pleas arguing the Central Vista project is unnecessary and alleging the government has not conducted a proper environment impact assessment.
During earlier arguments, the Centre had defended the project saying: “The old Parliament building is under tremendous stress, necessitating a new Parliament building.”
It had assured the court that no heritage structure would be dismantled — rather, they would be converted into museums.