Delhi HC dismisses plea seeking to halt Central Vista work

‘COVID-19 protocols are adhered to and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour is being followed’, it says

May 31, 2021 10:41 am | Updated 07:23 pm IST

Work in progress of Central Vista project in New Delhi on May 29, 20201.

Work in progress of Central Vista project in New Delhi on May 29, 20201.

The Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed a petition seeking to halt the construction activities at the Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project in view of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

A Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh remarked that there was no reason for for the court to suspend the construction activities as the workers were staying at the project site, and “COVID-19 protocols are adhered to and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour is being followed”.

“We are of the view that this is a motivated petition preferred by the petitioners and not a genuine public interest litigation [PIL],” the court said while imposing a cost of ₹1 lakh on petitioners Anya Malhotra, who works as a translator; and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary film maker.

‘Not an essential activity’

They argued that the project was not an essential activity and hence, it could be put on hold for now during the pandemic.

The court noted that the work at the Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment was part and parcel of the Central Vista Project and of vital public importance and the legality of the project had been upheld by Supreme Court.

“By no stretch of imagination, it can be said that Central Vista Project or Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project is not an essential project,” the court said, adding, “If this type of project is stopped by the court, the main project cannot be completed within the stipulated time”.

It noted that the work at the Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project had to be completed by November, 2021.

While the petitioners argued that the time limit be extended, the court said, “Such kind of arguments cannot be accepted by this court, keeping in view that the construction activity of this essential project or of a project of national importance cannot be stopped especially when the conditions imposed by the order of the DDMA dated 19th April, 2021...are not flouted or violated”.

The Central Vista Project includes Parliament, refurbishment of North Block, South Block, construction of new offices for Central government - Common Central Secretariat, Central Conference facilities, and Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project (both sides of the Rajpath where Republic Day celebrations are held every year).

The High Court remarked that several other agencies such as the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC), DMRC (Delhi Metro), Public Works Department (PWD), and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) were undertaking construction projects in the Delhi.

“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, Central Vista Project,” it stated.

The Centre had opposed the plea saying that it was a “façade” and a “disguise” in the form of a PIL petition to stall the project, which they always wanted to stop.

‘Very selective’

Solicitor General Tushar Mehra had argued that the public interest question raised by the petitioner in the case was “very selective”.

Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, for the petitioners, had stated that his clients were only delivering a message of health and safety for the people of Delhi and if the government could not see it, then it was a “sorry reflection” of their concern for the lives of the citizens.

Mr. Luthra had referred to the ongoing project work as not Central Vista, rather “central fortress of death”, comparing it to “Auschwitz”, a German concentration camp during World War II.

Mr. Mehta had expressed displeasure with the comparison, saying one could criticise and be venomous about it, but such terms should not be used in court.

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