In a 2:1 verdict, the Supreme Court Tuesday approved the Central Vista re-development project. In its judgment, the apex court upheld the exercise of power by the Centre as “just and valid” and confirmed the modifications in the change in land use. The recommendations of the environmental committee were also valid and proper, the three-judge bench said.
Justice Khanwilkar, writing the judgment for himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, also directed that the project proponent set up a smog tower and use anti-smoke guns at the construction site for the Central Vista project.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna, the third judge on the bench, also agreed on the issue of the award of the project. He, however, disagreed with the judgment on change of land use and on the grant of environmental clearance for the project. There was no prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee he said, adding the matter, therefore, has to be remitted back for a public hearing. On the question of environmental clearance, he opined that it was a non-speaking order.
The SC was hearing a batch of petitions that questioned whether the project complied with land use and environmental regulations peculiar to the area which houses the Parliament and Central Secretariat buildings.
In November, the bench had reserved the verdict. On December 7, last year the top court had allowed the Centre to proceed with the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Central Vista project on December 10 after the government assured it that no construction or demolition work would commence till the apex court decides the pending pleas on the issue. The Centre had told the bench that there would be only foundation stone-laying ceremony, and no construction, demolition or felling of trees would be done for the project as of now.
The Central Vista revamp, announced in September, 2019 envisages a new triangular Parliament building, with seating capacity for 900 to 1,200 MPs, that is to be constructed by August, 2022 when the country will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day.
The petitions challenged the December 21, 2019 notification by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) regarding changes in land use for the redevelopment.
Defending the project, the Centre had told the court that the existing Parliament building had many deficiencies, such as inadequacy of space, structural weaknesses and security issues. It said the Central Vista project will save the public exchequer Rs 1,000 crore that the Government currently pays as rent for many of its offices. The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) had submitted that the current strength of the Lok Sabha has remained at 545 on delimitation carried out on the basis of the 1971 Census and that it is likely to increase substantially after 2026 when the cap ends.
On the need for the Central Vista, it said the present Parliament building “is almost 100 years old and a Heritage Grade-I building.” “Therefore, it is showing signs of distress due to over-utilisation and is not able to meet the current requirements in terms of space, amenities and technology. The building structure also does not satisfy the upgraded earthquake Zone IV provisions regarding safety,” it had said.
It had submitted that the decision to have a new Parliament building has not been taken in haste and no law or norms have been violated in any manner for the project.
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