A Counter Affidavit by the Centre has been filed in the plea seeking stay against the Central Vista project that aims to construct a new Parliament and other Central Government offices in Lutyens Delhi
The Counter Affidavit explains that the Central Vista Development/Redevelopment Plan was initiated to meet the present and future needs of space for the Parliament, Ministries and Departments and to provide better public facilities, amenities, parking facilities et al. Highlighting the fire safety issue, acoustics concern, the Counter mentioned the dilapidated condition of the century-year old construction to learn about the need for the Redevelopment plan.
The counter affidavit in the plea seeking stay on the central vista project explained
“Fire safety is a major concern as the building is not designed according to the present fire norms. There are several other safety issues also.
The audiovisual system within the Parliament is old. The acoustics of the hall is not effective. The electrical, air-conditioning, and plumbing systems are inadequate, inefficient, costly to operate and maintain. Since the systems are mostly later additions and not a part of the original design, energy efficiency is also poor.”Statement in the 117- page affidavit filed by Executive Engineer of Central Public Works Department
Further, it was proposed that as the number of seats in Lok Sabha will probably increase after 2026, the Counter mentioned that both Houses of the Parliament is “packed to capacity and have no space for the addition of seats if the Parliament is expanded. The seating arrangements are cramped and cumbersome, there are no desks beyond the second row and movement is extremely constrained”.
The affidavit acknowledges that the project will not only work on the space requirement but also “facilitate to keep and maintain the existing iconic building intact as a symbol of a vibrant democracy”.
“The new Parliament building to house our nation’s bicameral legislature with complete indigenous technology, knowledge and expertise will be a showcase to the rest of the world.This building will be constructed with enhanced structural life, which will last for centuries. Therefore, this project will become a symbol of national pride and inspire citizens to participate in the democratic traditions of India.”
The Counter denies the contention that the Central Vista Committee was not transparent and just as the meeting had taken place without the concurrence of all the members. It was explained that due to the pandemic, a few members could not attend the meeting. However, they were free to voice their dissent.
Grants of environmental clearance for the central vista project
The following submissions were made the recommendation on April 22 by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) granted environmental clearance for the new parliament building with specific conditions on 17th June.
The outcome of the proceedings of the Special Leave Petition pending before the Supreme Court was subjected to environmental clearance.
The Petitioner wrongly alleged that the proposed expansion and modernization of the Parliament Building was “purposely managed in a manner so as to somehow circumvent existing regulations and do away with Public Consultation”.
The Counter showcased that the “Approvals/No Objections” were granted only after detailed deliberations and after following the due process the clearances were granted by two independent agencies/authorities.
“It is once again reiterated that the ‘No Objection’ of CVC was granted on 23.04.2020 and the ‘Environment Clearance’ was conveyed on 17.06.2020 based on EAC’s recommendation in the meeting held on 22.04.2020. Thus, it is amply clear that the contention of the Petitioner that both the clearances were granted on the same date i.e. 01.05.2020, a day after the 30.04.2020 order of this Hon’ble Court, is entirely incorrect”.
The affidavit also noted that as the project came under B category as per the 2006 EIA notification, no public consultation was required before grant of environmental clearance.
A consolidated Reply to be filed within 10 days by the Respondents was directed by the Supreme Court in the plea challenging the use of land for the Central Vista project on 17th July 2020.
When Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde had requested for the issuance of notice in the plea, Observations were made by a Bench headed by Justice UU Lalit that it was not the time for formalities, but it time to do substantial justice.
Superseding the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) Public Notice issued on 19 December, 2019 over 20th March notification of the Government, is a subjugation of the Rule of Law and judicial protocol as the 2019 notice is currently sub judice before the Supreme Court.
In December 2019, the DDA had served a Public Notice inviting objections against proposed changes in land use in the Government’s Rs. 20,000 crore Central Vista project.
In the Delhi High Court, the notification was challenged on being ultra vires of Section 11A of the Delhi Development Act 1957 and beyond the powers of DDA to do so. Further it was contended that the plan was not in accordance with the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 (MPD2021) and in violation of “larger laws of the country”.
Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari transferred the matter on 6th March.
A change in land use was notified by the Centre on March 20, 2020 relating to approximately 86 acres of land in the heart of Lutyens Delhi, marked by structures like the Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, North Block and South Block amongst others. The same petitioner moved the Supreme Court against the Centre’s notification with a fresh plea.
The Court was urged to eradicate the notification issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in March 2020. The instant plea mentions that the decision was in violation Right to Life of a citizen guaranteed under Article 21. The petition regarded that it would deprive people of enjoying highly treasured open and green spaces.
“(The notification) is violative of Article 21 of Constitution of India and, violates the extended version of Article 21 the Right to life, guaranteed by the Constitution of India. That Respondent No. 1 brashly issued Notification No. SO 1192 (E) dated 20th March 2020, changing land use, which will deprive residents of Delhi and citizens of India a vast chunk of highly treasured open and green space in the Central Vista area, available for public, semi-public, social and recreational activity, stands against Article 21, Right to Life the right to enjoyment of a wholesome life.”
Further Article 49 of the Constitution is highlighted to assert that the State is responsible for protecting places and objects of national importance. The Public Trust Doctrine to prove their stance was mentioned and requested that it is “upon the State to protect such resources for the use of the general public, rather than to permit it only for use of a certain class or section of the people.”
The Supreme Court refused to stay the project on April 30, noting that “during COVID-19, nobody is going to do anything”, referring to probable construction on the allocated site.
On 19 June, the Central Government communicated the Supreme Court that no assurance on work on the ground would be done with respect to the Central Vista project, despite Hegde submitting the administrative clearances with no objections on their side. The Bench, however, the question of whether the Supreme Court could restrain the authorities from acting as per the law was raised by the Bench.
The matter will be next heard on July 23rd.