THE CENTRE on Tuesday sought dismissal of a petition seeking an interim stay on the ongoing construction at Central Vista Avenue amid the Covid-19 pandemic, telling the Delhi High Court that the petition was “one more attempt” to stall the project. The court on Tuesday said it will hear the case on Wednesday.
“Such attempts are going on since the inception of the project under one pretext or the other and in one name or the other,” said the Union government, adding the petition deserves to be dismissed with “exemplary costs” on the ground “that it is an abuse of the process of law”.
The petition filed by Anya Malhotra, a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, historian and documentary filmmaker, states that they are concerned over the “super spreading potential and threat” posed by the continuing construction at the project site and the plight of the workers who are being exposed to the infection on a daily basis.
The government, in a written reply, said that 400 workers for redevelopment of the Central Vista Avenue were engaged “well before” the imposition of curfew in Delhi and the workers are staying at the site in compliance of the Delhi government’s Covid-19 guidelines. The Centre argued that according to Para 8 of the April 19 order of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority, construction activities during curfew are permitted where labourers are residing on-site.
“While the arrangements for the stay of the workers were being made at the site, permission was sought for transportation of materials and labour from Sarai Kale Khan camp to the work site, including permission for the movement of supervisory staff. It is submitted that the said permission was granted on 19.04.2021, and was valid up to 30.04.2021,” it said.
The Centre further said that a Covid-compliant facility had been installed at the work site to accommodate the 250 workers who, it said, had expressed their willingness to stay put and continue the work. “The facility provides for strict implementation of Covid-appropriate behaviour, such as sanitisation, thermal screening, physical/social distancing and masking,” said the government.
It also told the court that the contractor has provided for health insurance against Covid-19 for all the workers and that a separate facility for conducting RT-PCR test, isolation and medical aid has also been provided at the site. Work at the Central Vista Avenue is to be completed by November 2021, it said further.
In the reply, the government said that several other agencies such as CPWD, NBCC, DMRC, PWD, IICC and DDA are also engaged in carrying out construction activities across Delhi but that “the petitioner has chosen to be a ‘public spirited citizen’ only with regard to one project only speaks volumes about his intentions and motive behind filing the present petition that too suppressing all these facts”.
“The construction is going on since long and has not started overnight. The petitioner rushed to this Hon’ble Court in the midst of curfew selectively targeting one particular construction site,” the reply reads.
On May 4, the first day of hearing, the High Court had adjourned Malhotra and Hashmi’s petition to May 17, saying it would first have to go through the Supreme Court judgment of January 5 that upheld the government decision to redevelop the Central Vista.
The petitioners then approached the Supreme Court against the High Court adjournment, but the apex court declined to entertain their plea, telling them to request the High Court for an urgent listing.
The High Court on Tuesday allowed the application for early hearing and advanced the hearing in the main petition of Malhotra and Hashmi to Wednesday.
Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra had last week submitted before the court that they are in no manner seeking to overreach the judgment of Supreme Court and the prayer is limited to seeking an interim stay on the construction during the peak phase of the pandemic.
“The petitioners are also questioning why or how the project constitutes an ‘essential service’ merely because some executive mandated contractual deadline has to be met,” the petition said.
The Supreme Court has in a majority decision in January allowed the Central Vista project to go ahead. While Justice Sanjiv Khanna had given a dissenting judgment, Justices A M Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheswari had approved the project.