Supreme Court, on 5th January 2021, pronounced verdict upholding and allowing Central Vista Redevelopment Project (hereinafter referred as “Project”), taken up by Central Government, to go ahead. A Bench of Justice A. M. Khanwilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna pronounced judgement with 2:1 majority with Justice Khanwilkar and Justice Maheshwari forming the majority, while Justice Khanna pronounced a separate judgment.
The Project aims to remodel and restore the 86 acre land of Lutyens’s Delhi. Specifically, construction of a new Parliament house, which will be larger and will house around 900-1200 MPs; a new residential complex that will house the Prime Minister and the Vice-President, and several new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to accommodate Ministry offices.
A Petition regarding the same was filed at the Supreme Court in April 2020, by Rajiv Suri, under the scope of Article 21, which guarantees Right to Life, providing people open and green spaces. Alongside this, a former Secretary of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Meena Gupta, filed an Intervention Application highlighting environmental distress that will be caused due to the redevelopment. Ultimately, the Supreme Court heard arguments mainly on three grounds, i.e. Change of land use, violations of Municipal and Environmental Laws. Final hearings took place during October and November, and the Supreme Court reserved its judgement on November 5, 2020.
The Central Government placed great importance on reconstruction of a new Parliament building and a Central Secretariat, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, indicated that the current Parliament building, which came into use in 1927, does not adhere to fire safety norms, does not have enough seating space, and is not earthquake-proof. “There is an imminent need to have a new Parliament building. The current building was built in 1927 prior to independence and was intended to house the legislative council and not a bicameral legislature we have today. The building does not conform to fire safety norms and water and sewer lines are also haphazard which is damaging the heritage nature of the building. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are packed. When joint sessions are held, members sit on plastic chairs diminishing the dignity of the House,” he told the Bench.
While pronouncing its final judgement, the majority of the Bench noted, “No country with a sizeable population like ours can give a promise of direct participation to every individual in the decision-making process (of the Government) in administrative matters unless the law so prescribes. It must be borne in mind that such public participation is not to supplant the discretion of the Government or to retard the development work. It is only for inviting constructive suggestions/objections from all stakeholders for effective implementation of the policy of the Government, to subserve public interest.”
Justice Khanna, however, differed from the majority’s judgement stated the “Gunning Principles”, which involve public notice of the land use plans, inviting of public objections, consideration of the objections before finalization of the plans. He observed that, “To ignore their salutary mandate as to the manner and nature of consultation in the participatory exercise, would be defeat the benefic objective of exercise of deliberation. Public participation to be fruitful and constructive is not to be a mechanical exercise or formality, it must comply with the least and basic requirements”.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna was in dissent with Justice A. M. Khanwilkar’s and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari’s judgement as the majority observed, “Mere absence of information does not vitiate an administrative process. The petitioners must show prejudice caused to them on account of alleged denial of administration.” While Justice Khanna was of the view that, “mere uploading of the gazette notification giving the present and the proposed land use with plot numbers was not sufficient”.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court, with a majority of 2:1 quashed the petition and sanctioned the Central Vista Redevelopment Project, which is targeted to be finished by the year 2024.
Order:Central Vista Judgement