The Delhi high court on Monday said the revamp of the city’s Central Vista was an “essential project of national importance” and dismissed, with a penalty of ₹1 lakh, a petition that sought to halt part of the redevelopment work during the pandemic.
The Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment project is a part of the larger Central Vista project, which includes a new Parliament building, the refurbishment of North and South Blocks, and the construction of new offices of Central government, including a common Central Secretariat and central conference facilities, among others.
“This work is part and parcel of Central Vista Project and of vital public importance. The construction of Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project cannot be seen in isolation. In fact, the whole Central Vista Project is an essential project of national importance, where the sovereign functions of Parliament are also to be conducted. Public is vitally interested in this project,” a bench of chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh said.
Calling the petition “motivated”, the court imposed a cost of ₹1 lakh on the petitioners — Anya Malhotra, a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary filmmaker — who sought to halt the ongoing part redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue, which includes both sides of Rajpath, on the grounds that the work could become a superspreader event.
The petitioners contended that the project was not an essential activity and, therefore, could be put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.
While holding that the petitioners selectively chose only one project when several other agencies — such as the CPWD, NBCC, DMRC, PWD, IICC and DDA — were undertaking construction projects in Delhi, the bench said that the legality of the project has already been upheld by the Supreme Court on Jan 5. It also said that “time is of the essence” and the work has to be completed by November 2021.
“It is obvious that petitioners have selectively chosen only one project which is of national importance, at a vital place where Republic Day celebrations are held in Delhi, and is a part and parcel of the larger project, namely, Central Vista Project, legality whereof has already been upheld by the Supreme Court in the judgment dated Jan 5th and which is to be completed within a time bound schedule, i.e. on or before November, 2021,” the bench said in a 23-page judgment.
“We are of the view that this is a motivated petition preferred by the petitioners and not genuine public interest litigation. In view of the aforesaid, present petition is hereby dismissed with costs of Rs1,00, 000,” the court said, adding that the petitioners have not been able to substantiate the allegations or the alleged breach or violation of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) orders.
“On the contrary, challenge to the ongoing construction activity with regard to one particular project, is a pointer to the ill-intent and lack of bonafides of the petitioners in filing the present petition,” it said.
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for the petitioners, had contended that exceptions were made for this project and permission was also sought for ferrying the workers during the peak of the pandemic’s second wave in April. He had also said that 180 vehicles were given green signal to transport the workers which has also been admitted by the Centre.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, argued that it was an attempt to halt the project with oblique motives. He contended that the plea was nothing but a “facade of PIL created to disguise something which they wanted to stop under one pretext or the other”.
On Monday, the bench said that “since the workers who are working at the project are staying on site, there is no question of issuing directions to suspend the work of Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project, whatsoever, arises”.
“We completely disagree with the senior counsel appearing for the petitioners that the project is not an essential activity. The project in question is of vital importance and essential and has a direct nexus with the main project, namely, Central Vista Project. By no stretch of imagination, it can be said that Central Vista Project (which is the main project) or Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project is not an essential project.
“The Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project, which is a subset of the main project, is equally important and essential as the main project. If this type of project is stopped by the court, the main project cannot be completed within the stipulated time. Once the workers are staying at the site and all facilities have been provided, Covid-19 protocols are adhered to, and Covid-19 appropriate behaviour is being followed, there is no reason for this court while exercising powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to stop the project,” the court said.
In orders issued on April 8 and April 19, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) allowed construction activities only if the workers were residing on site
The court said that the DDMA requirement with respect to in-situ construction was being complied with by the respondents.