SC's nod to Central Vista project

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 1/6/2021 11:20:27 AM

NEW DELHI, Jan 5: By a majority of 2 to 1 judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Central Vista Project and construction of a new Parliament building, the dream projects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to change the face of the national capital, holding that there is no infirmity in their approvals by the Delhi Urban Art Commission and the Heritage Conservation Committee.
In a 432-page majority judgment pronounced by presiding judge Justice A M Khanwilkar on his and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari's behalf, the Court found the government's decision to change the land use for the project as "just and proper" and the environment clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) as "just, proper and in accordance with law."
The Court that disposed of eight petitions challenging the project, however, ordered setting up of the smog towers of adequate capacity as an integral part of the new Parliament building and use of smog guns at the construction site throughout the construction phase. It also directed the MOEF to install the smog towers in all future major development projects, particularly in cities with bad track record of air quality relating to government buildings, townships or other private projects.
It also ordered prior permission of the Heritage Conservation Committee before the actual start of the construction work, and not the incipient stage of planning and formalisation.
In his 179-page dissenting judgment, Justice Sanjiv Khanna quashed the notification of March 28, 2020 on changes in the land use of six plots in the Central Vista, noting the petitioners' main grievance that the project was hurried without proper public consultation, and ordering fresh public scrutiny.
He, therefore, ordered the Centre to "put on public domain on the web, intelligible and adequate information among with drawings, layout plans, with explanatory memorandum, etc. within a period of seven days," issue advertisement in the print media within seven days and allow suggestions and objections with four weeks, mentioning date, time and place of the public hearing by the Heritage Conservation Committee.
Justice Khanna gave seven grounds for dissenting from the majority judgment. His basic reservation was no public participation in the decision and no prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee and the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MOEF. Mere uploading the gazette notification on land use change was not sufficient, he ruled.
He said the project involves complete redevelopment of the Central Vista area whose impact would not be "minor." He said the proposed project rather envisages extensive change of the landscape. He noted that reasonable time was not given to the public to respond and the government firmed up its decision even before the public hearing on February 6 and 7. He also noted that the environment clearance was given mechanically, without application of mind as no reasons were recorded justifying the conclusion.
The petitioners had moved the top court, challenging change in land use and other permissions, environment and heritage clearances. The majority judgment noted that the objective of the project is to create a larger working space for efficient functioning of the highest legislative wing of the country (read Parliament) and for integrated administrative block for ministries that are presently spread out at different locations, including on rental basis.
It noted that the Parliament House building is a Grade-I heritage structure of 93 years, commissioned in 1927 which does not meet the requirements to accommodate increasing number of MPs and its Central Hall with a seating capacity of only 440 persons falls short of the need to accommodate MPs of both the Houses during a joint session. Also, the structure falls short of fire, water and electricity safety norms, posing a grave security risk to MPs and staff.
The new Parliament building is to be constructed with futuristic approach, with the House of People (Lok Sabha) being three times the size of the present chamber besides other constructions in the Parliament complex. The project also envisages housing of all the 51 ministries in 10 buildings with an integrated complex, with underground transit connectivity.
Expressing the need for urgent completion of the project, it has been stated that the new Parliament meeting the neds of vibrant Indian democracy shall symbolize the 75th Independence Day of the country in 2022 as well as the Global G20 Summit to be hosted by India in the same year.
Common Central Secretariat with all Ministries in a single location at the Rajpath lawns for efficiency and synergy in functioning and redevelopment of the Central Vista as a world class public space and venue for national and international events were other factors cited by the government to change the face of what is today known as "Lutyens' Bungalow Zone.
The dissenting verdict required the Centre to act on the committee's recommendations. It also asked the committee to simultaneously examine the issue of grant of prior permission or approval of the building of new Parliament and communicate its findings to the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), through a speaking order setting out reasons for the conclusions.
It also set aside the Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) order in April last year and the environment clearance by MOEF and directed the ministry to remit to the EAC to answer the question of environment clearance within 30 days, without awaiting the decision on the land use.



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