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HOLDING the Central Vista Project to be of national importance, the Delhi High Court Monday dismissed a petition which had sought a stay on construction on it in the midst of a pandemic, calling it “motivated” and imposing on the petitioners a cost of Rs 1 lakh.
“The construction of Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project cannot be seen in isolation. In fact, the whole Central Vista Project is an essential project of national importance, where the sovereign functions of Parliament are also to be conducted. Public is vitally interested in this project,” said a Division Bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh.
The challenge to the on-going construction of one particular project is “a pointer to the ill-intent and lack of bona fides of the petitioners in filing the present petition”, the Bench said.
The Centre had sought that the petition be dismissed with “exemplary costs” on the ground “that it is an abuse of the process of law”. The petitioners were translator Anya Malhotra and historian and documentary filmmaker Sohail Hashmi.
Observing that the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) had on April 19 permitted construction activity where labourers stayed on site during the Covid restrictions, the court said a conjoint reading of the affidavits filed by the Centre and Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Private Limited (SPCPL) revealed that arrangements were made to accommodate 280 workers at the site and that “there is no further movement” of workers from Sarai Kale Khan or any other place to the site.
“Since the workers who are working at the project are staying on the site, no question of issuing directions to suspend the work of Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project, whatsoever, arises,” said the Bench, while also taking note of SPCPL’s submission that several facilities have been provided by it to workers onsite like “residence/accommodation”, medical facilities, a Covid-19 care centre and facilities for isolation and conducting RT-PCR tests.
Observing that work has to be completed within a time-bound schedule, the High Court rejected the plea for an extension and said construction “of this essential project or of a project of national importance” cannot be stopped when the conditions imposed by the DDMA are not flouted.
“By no stretch of imagination, it can be said that the Central Vista Project (which is the main project) or Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project is not an essential project. The Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project which is a sub-set of the main project is equally important and essential as the main project. If this type of project is stopped by the court, the main project cannot be completed within the stipulated time,” the Bench said.
On the movement of vehicles to the site, the High Court said this was just, legal and proper, to transport material for construction. “The permission is certainly regulated and only those vehicles which have been permitted, would be allowed to move, in accordance with the movement pass dated 19th April, 2021 and after due scrutiny of their registration numbers.”
The High Court noted that construction by several other agencies too is on in the National Capital Region territory. “It is obvious that petitioners have selectively chosen only one project which is of national importance, at a vital place where Republic Day Celebrations are held in Delhi and is a part and parcel of the larger project, namely the Central Vista project, legality whereof has already been upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,” it said.
The petitioners said they were concerned about the “super-spreading potential and threat” posed by the continuing construction at the project site, and the plight of workers exposed to infection on a daily basis.
Seeking dismissal of the petition, the Centre termed it “one more attempt” to stall the project and called it a facade to “satisfy some kind of a vanity in mind of certain individuals”. “Such attempts are going on since the inception of the project under one pretext or the other and in one name or the other,” the Union government said.
The counsel for the petitioners, Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, argued that they were in no manner seeking to overreach the Supreme Court judgment that had permitted the Central Vista Project, and that their PIL was limited to construction during the peak phase of the pandemic. The petitioners had approached the court on May 4 when the national capital was recording nearly 20,000 Covid-19 cases on a daily basis.
“When we came to your lordships, we were afraid their dereliction was going to lead to an Auschwitz on the gardens of Central Delhi, on the gardens of India Gate,” Luthra said at the May 17 hearing.
Malhotra and Hashmi had also asked “why or how the project constitutes an ‘essential service’ merely because some Executive-mandated contractual deadline has to be met”.
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