On 5th January 2021, the Central Vista Project received a green signal from the Supreme Court of India. A three-judge bench of Justices pronounced the 2:1 judgment, where Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari formed the majority verdict saying that India has a large population and it is not possible for every individual to take part in the decision-making process. Hence there should be a line demarcating the public participation and the executive decisions.
Central Vista Project - Overview
Aim: The Central Vista Project aims at revamping the Central Vista as a world-class public space by restoring its grandeur as an architectural icon, housing modern facilities to the efficient functioning of the administration. The construction of the ultra-modern triangular Parliament buildings will replace the 93-years-old circular Parliament House which will have the space to accommodate 888 MPs in Lok Sabha and 384 in the Rajya Sabha. This expansion has been done keeping in mind the delimitation scheduled in 2026.
Bigger than the old one: The new Parliament building is 17,000 sq. km. bigger than the existing Parliament building.
Earthquake Resistant: The new Parliament building is earthquake resistant.
Area: The new building is planned to span across an area of 64,500 sq. km.
Cost: The total cost of the project is Rs 20,000 crores.
Complex for Member of Parliament: According to the project, a new complex will be constructed for the Members of the Parliament of both the Houses at Shram Shakti Bhawan.
Model of the new Parliament Building (estimated cost of Rs 971 crores).
Supreme Court's Judgment on The Project
The Central Vista Project aims to refurbish the 86 acres of land in New Delhi consisting of the government buildings on the Rajpath, which stretches from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the new War Memorial at the India Gate. Also called the “Prime Minister's Deam Project” of revamping the nation's administrative heart, this project was announced on 13th September, 2019, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
Following this, a petition was filed in the apex court of India in April 2020, which challenged the Centre's change-of-land-use notification of March 2020, regarding the 86 acres of land. Rajeev Suri, the petitioner, stated that the order violated the citizen's right to life which is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, as it deprives the citizens from open and green spaces. The petition also challenged that the notification violated the Delhi Master Plan 2021 (under which a smart city will be built in Delhi where most of the population will be shifted) and that the notification also quashes the December 2019 notice issued by the Delhi Department Authority inviting objections against the proposed changes in the land use. Due to this petition, the court heard the matter on the basis of the following grounds:
Several top lawyers appeared for the final hearings in October and November 2020. The Court reserved its judgment on 5th November 2020.
The construction of the building is expected to be completed by August 2022 when the 75th Independence Day will be celebrated by the nation. The Supreme Court allowed the ceremony to go on after it directed the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to ensure that no construction or demolition and felling of tress take place before the judgment was passed.
The Supreme Court delivered its judgment on 5th January 2021 whereby a majority of 2:1, the apex court upheld the project in its entirety. In the petition which challenged the environmental clearances, the judgment revealed the blind spots in the reasonings and stated that the project was environmentally sound and upheld the clearances. The Court was also satisfied with the mitigation measures that were identified by the Central Public Works Department, which was the project proponent. The Court mentioned that as long as the trees are protected and there is control over the level of pollution by installing smog towers, the developments will not pose a threat to the environment.
Hence, the petition which challenged the project on the basis of violation of the procedures and principles of the environmental law was entirely reduced to waste management, protection of stress and installation of smog towers.
Is it a Project of National Importance?
Another plea was filed in the early weeks of April in Delhi High Court to suspend the ongoing construction work during the pandemic. This plea stated that the project was not an essential activity and it should be stopped till India recovers from the covid crisis. In fact, the petitioners termed the Central Vista project as the “Central Fortress of Death” and even compared it “Auschwitz” which was the worst concentration camp in Germany. It is to be noted that the petition is not challenging the project itself, but regarding the safety of the construction workers.
However, holding the Central Vista Project to be of National Importance, the Delhi High Court on 31st May 2021 dismissed the petition. A Division Bench of Chief Justices DN Patel and Jyoti Singh stated that the whole project is an essential project where the sovereign functions of the Parliament are to be conducted. The Court observed that on 19th April, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority permitted the construction activities and that affidavits were filed by the Center and Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt. Ltd (SPCPL) by which arrangements were made to accommodate a total of 280 workers at the construction site so that there was “no further movement” of the workers. According to SPCPL's submission, there were several facilities that were provided to the workers, like medical facilities, covid-19 care centers.
The Court stated that by no stretch of the imagination, it can be said that the Central Vista Project is not an essential project. The Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project, the sub-project, is also equally important as the main project. Since the project is supposed to be finished within a given amount of time, any hindrance to the sub-project by the court, will have an impact on the main project which will not be completed within the stipulated time. Dismissing the latest petition, the court termed it as "one more attempt" to stall the project. This type of attempt has been going on since the start of the project under one pretext or another.