EXPRESSING ITS concern at the Government proceeding “aggressively” with the Central Vista redevelopment while petitions against the project are pending, the Supreme Court Monday gave its go-ahead for the foundation-laying ceremony on December 10 for the new Parliament building only after it was assured that no construction, demolition, or translocation of trees will be carried out at the site till it decides the various pleas.
“After interacting with the Solicitor General, and when the concern of the Court was expressed, on instructions, the Solicitor General stated that there will be no construction activity of any nature on the concerned site(s) nor demolition of any structure will be done, including the further trans-location of tree(s) will be kept in abeyance, until the pronouncement of judgment in all these cases,” a Bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheswari and Sanjeev Khanna said.
“In view of the above, we clarify that the authorities would be free to continue with procedural processes without altering the status of the site(s) in question in any manner, including to continue with the scheduled programme of foundation stone-laying on 10th December, 2020,” the Bench said.
On November 5, the court had reserved its order on petitions against the project, which also includes a Common Central Secretariat as part of an integrated complex. On December 5, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had unveiled the artistic design of the Parliament structure and announced that the aim was to complete construction by 2022, in time for the 75th anniversary of Independence.
The Bench did not refer to the announcement but said it had listed the matter suo motu. While clarifying that it had not granted any stay, the Bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: “The fact that there is no stay does not mean you can go ahead with everything.”
On hold for now
The Supreme Court order comes at a time when the government is aiming to complete the new Parliament building by August 2022. For the government, the advantages of the project are many: security, technology and the cost-benefit of integrated offices. It will now have to put its plans on hold till the court clears the way.
“We thought we are dealing with a prudent litigant and that deference will be shown. We never thought you will go ahead so aggressively with construction. We don’t mind if you do paperwork, or lay foundation stone but no construction should be done,” Justice Khanwilkar said.
When Mehta sought a day’s time to respond, the Bench asked him to take instructions in five minutes. Following this, Mehta assured that there will be no construction, demolition or felling of trees till the court decides the pending pleas. He submitted that only the foundation-laying will be conducted.
The pending petitions have challenged the notification on December 21, 2019, by 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.
The new Lok Sabha Chamber, it said, will be able to accommodate 876 members and 1,224 members during joint sessions while the Rajya Sabha Chamber will be able to accommodate 400 members.
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.
The CPWD said the Central Secretariat is currently spread over 17 buildings and there are 39 ministries located in the Central Vista in various buildings. The different locations of the central government offices “result in difficulty in inter-departmental coordination, inefficiency, linger travel time causing traffic congestion and pollution”.
The CPWD also said that the central government is facing a shortfall of about 0.38 million square metre and is paying around Rs 1000 crime annually “in rentals for hired spaces”.
In the new project, there will be a Common Central Secretariat with 51 ministries in 10 buildings. An underground shuttle of approximately 3 km length is also proposed to be constructed “to connect and integrate all the buildings of Common Central Secretariat”. It will be connected to the Delhi Metro Transit system at Udyog Bhavan and Central Secretariat stations.