Offices in the Central Vista area can’t have ‘heritage’ shield: Govt
The Centre informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Central government offices located in or near Central Vista cannot be said to fall within the “Central Vista Precincts” and will not enjoy the protection available to heritage buildings.
An affidavit filed in this regard by New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) was presented to the Court by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who presented arguments in defence of the Government action to approve change of land use for the Central Vista project that involves construction of a new Parliament and a common Central Secretariat housing 51 Central government buildings.
The affidavit said, “Only the Rajpath along with the green lawns and the water bodies on either side is designated as the Central Vista Precincts….This does not include any other offices located at Central Vista.” The affidavit goes on to mention that “buildings such as Nirman Bhawan, Udyog Bhawan, Rail Bhawan, Krishi Bhawan, Vayu Bhawan, etc” cannot be termed as heritage buildings as the same are not listed in the list of 141 Heritage Buildings notified by the Government on October 1, 2009.
This list was finalized on basis of a report received from INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) and Heritage Conservation Committee.
Solicitor General Mehta informed the Court that the Central Vista precincts comprising Rajpath along with the green lawns and water bodies on either side will remain untouched in the proposed Central Vista Project that involves a budget of Rs 20000 crore. Mehta added that the Project will not hinder public access to Central Vista Precincts.
Mehta’s arguments come in the wake of reservationS expressed in a clutch of petitions by Rajeev Suri, Anuj Srivastava and AG Krishna Menon who opposed the hurried manner in which the Centre went about giving approvals for the Central Vista Project. They claimed that the entire Parliament and surrounding structures enjoyed the “heritage building” tag and could not be destroyed. It was further apprehended by the petitioners that once the new structures are in place, the area would be marked as “High Security Zone” closing public access to Rajpath, lawns and water bodies adjoining it.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar posed queries to Mehta on the procedure of public hearing adopted by Government and the notification of March 20, 2020 issued by DDA approving the change in land use. Ths Solicitor General told the Court that public the hearing contemplated for amending the Master Plan of Delhi required Government only to invite objections. Close to 1292 objections were received in connection to the Central Vista Project following which a public hearing was also conducted on February 6 and 7.
As regards the March 20 notification, Mehta said that an executive order passed by Ministry of Urban Development in 2013 has delegated power to Vice Chairman, DDA to issue ‘change in land use’ notification.
Although the Central Vista project has been challenged on multiple grounds, the bench is currently hearing petitioners and Centre on a limited aspect related to change in land use.
The project envisages a new Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and a common Central Secretariat housing 51 Ministries in 10 buildings. The proposed Lok Sabha chamber is expected to accommodate 876 seats and the Rajya Sabha chamber 400 seats. The new complex will provide for 1224 seats in the Central Hall, equipped with state-of-the-art technology and seamless movement between both Houses of Parliament.
Advocate Ankit Yadav, who is representing one of the petitioners, said, “Assurance given by the Centre that Central Vista precincts will remain open to public, allays our concerns that area around Rajpath will not be converted into high security zone. But, the stand taken by NDMC that office buildings situated in Central Vista do not fall in heritage zone is disputed by us.”