Consider urgent hearing of plea against Central Vista project: SC tells Delhi HC

The plea had questioned the urgency in carrying on with the project during the raging second wave of the pandemic in the Capital.
Construction work underway as part of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project, at Rajpath in New Delhi, Thursday, May 6. (PTI)
Construction work underway as part of the Central Vista Redevelopment Project, at Rajpath in New Delhi, Thursday, May 6. (PTI)
Updated on May 08, 2021 02:05 AM IST
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ByUtkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Friday observed that the Covid-19 situation is “very serious”, as it requested the Delhi high court to consider hearing urgently a plea that has sought suspension of the ongoing construction activity in some stretches of the Central Vista area of New Delhi due to spurt in Covid-19 cases.

Taking note of the fact the high court had given a long adjournment, the bench of justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari observed that it would not be proper to issue any directive to another constitutional court to hear the case on an earlier date but it was certain that the chief justice of the high court will consider the request for an urgent hearing for the plea.

“Since the matter is pending before the high court and the appeal is against the order of adjournment, we are not inclined to enter into the merits of the case. In the given circumstance, we request Shri Sidharth Luthra (petitioner’s lawyer) or any other counsel to make request before the chief justice of high court on Monday to take up the matter as urgently as possible,” said the court order. It added: “We hope and trust that high court shall consider the prayer for early hearing.”

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The Central government’s over 15,000 crore redevelopment plan for the historically significant Central Vista area of New Delhi envisages a new Parliament, Central Secretariat and union ministries’ offices.

Petitioners Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi had filed a petition before the high court, questioning the urgency in carrying on with the construction activity on three stretches of the Central Vista area during the subsistence of this peak phase of the pandemic in the capital when oxygen is in short supply and the healthcare system has collapsed.

On May 4, a Delhi high court bench led by chief justice DN Patel adjourned the matter to May 17, saying he needed some time to read the Supreme Court judgment of January 5 giving a clearance to the Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project. Petitioners challenged this order of long adjournment before the top court in an appeal, drawn by advocate Ketaki Goswami.

Arguing for the appeal, senior advocate Luthra began by saying the petitioners were not at all challenging the project after the Supreme Court’s nod to it but the public health emergency has prompted them to seek a temporary suspension of the work for stretches where labourers’ lives were in peril and the construction activity could turn out to be a super-spreader.

“Between April and May, the positivity rate in Delhi has gone up from 2% to around 30%. Deaths have gone up many times. This is a matter that needs urgent consideration. We are concerned about 3.5 km stretch. We are in a stage where health infrastructure has completely broken down. People cannot get beds and deaths are going up,” submitted Luthra.

The counsel pointed out that the plea was confined to stopping work which entailed construction activity on Rajpath and the surrounding lawns from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhawan since there were no on-site accommodation facilities on these stretches and the workers were instead being ferried in buses every day.

“My concern is that we are facing a humanitarian crisis of the greatest magnitude. No adverse consequences will happen if this is adjourned by three or four weeks. The ongoing construction activity have the potential of being a super spreader event since labourers travel from and back to their families from different parts of Delhi. The situation is already very alarming,” said Luthra.

The bench replied: “We are well conscious of the situation. We are not making any observations because some other bench of this court is already hearing these matters...But the fact that you can see that we are wearing masks even inside our homes is a sign of how serious the situation is.”

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta opposed the plea, raising doubts over the bona fide of the petitioners but the court said that all this could be argued before the high court.

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