No stay by Supreme Court on Central Vista redevelopment project for now
The Supreme Court on Thursday declined stay on the redevelopment of Delhi’s Central Vista for the time being, stating that there is no pressing urgency to grant any interim relief as the country is in a state of lockdown.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde was hearing a petition filed by Rajeev Suri challenging a notification issued by the central government on March 20 proposing changes in land use for the proposed redevelopment project.
“During COVID-19 nobody is going to do anything. There is no urgency...”, CJI Bobde remarked when the case came up for hearing on Thursday.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, the central government second senior-most law officer, defended the redevelopment project.
“Parliament is being constructed. Why is there a problem?”, he submitted.
The Central Vista houses iconic buildings like the Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the North and South Block buildings, which house important ministries, and the India Gate. The union government is proposing to redevelop the Central Vista by constructing a new Parliament house, a new residential complex that will house the Prime Minister and the Vice President, besides several new office buildings.
The bench, which also comprised justice Aniruddha Bose, noted that another petition on the same issue which the same petitioner had filed is pending before the Supreme Court. That petition, which was initially filed before the Delhi high court, had been transferred to the Supreme Court by way of an order passed by the top court on March 6.
The court, therefore, disposed of the fresh petition filed by Suri while granting him the liberty to amend the pending petition which had been transferred from the high court to the apex court.
“Mr. Shikhil Suri, counsel appearing for the petitioner prays for withdrawal of this petition with liberty to amend the writ petition which has been transferred to this court from the high court. Prayer is allowed”, the court ordered.
“The Supreme Court has granted liberty to amend the writ petition challenging the Central Vista project which is pending in the Supreme Court. In the order today, there is no rejection of prayer. In this pending petition, the Supreme Court has already passed an order that the proposal of the government in regard to the Central Vista will be subject to the outcome of the pending writ petition. The Solicitor General had also accepted the notice and sought time to file a counter affidavit which it has not done so far. There is no refusal on stay,” petitioner Rajeev Suri said.
Suri, along with another petitioner Lt Colonel Anuj Srivastava, had first moved the Delhi high court in February challenging a notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 21 last year regarding changes in land use for the redevelopment.
Suri had challenged the alterations envisaged by the central government on the ground that it involves changes to land use and standards of population density and that the DDA is not vested with the requisite power to bring about such changes. He submitted that the power, if at all, for bringing about such changes lies with the central government.
Srivastava, meanwhile, challenged the public hearings held to raise objections to the exercise, arguing that the hearings were a mere formality devoid of any meaningful exercise.
A single-judge bench of justice Rajiv Shakdher had, on February 11, granted them interim relief ordering that the DDA should approach the high court before notifying any of the proposed changes in the land use.
“In case a decision is taken to notify the proposed changes in Master Plan Delhi 2020-21, the DDA will approach the court before notifying such decision,” Justice Shakdher had ordered while issuing notice to the centre and DDA in both the petitions.
However, a Division bench of the Delhi high court comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and justice C Hari Shankar stayed the order of the single judge on February 28.
Suri then approached the Supreme Court challenging the denial of interim relief by the high court.
The Supreme Court, however, transferred the entire case to itself on March 6.
“…in larger public interest, we deem it appropriate that the entire matter pertaining to challenge pending before the high court is heard and decided by this court expeditiously,” the top court ordered.
The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, subsequently notified change in land use on March 20 which Suri challenged in his fresh plea before the Supreme Court claiming violation of right to life under Article 21.
“Central government brashly issued notification dated March 20, 2020, changing land use, (which) will deprive residents of Delhi and citizens of India a vast chunk of highly treasured open space in the Central Vista area, available for public, semi-public, social and recreational activity, (and) stands against Article 21, right to life and the right to enjoyment of a wholesome life”, the plea said.