The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal filed against the Delhi High Court judgment refusing to halt the Central Vista redevelopment project work in the Capital amid the COVID-19 pandemic and imposing ₹1 lakh fine on the petitioners.
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A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar asked the petitioners, Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi, why there were “selective”. The court asked senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, for the petitioners, repeatedly why his clients chose to focus entirely on the Central Vista project and not other public projects in the Capital.
“You have been selective about one project. We do not find in your writ petition anything about any other project.... You have been selective about one project only,” Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, on the Bench, addressed Mr. Luthra.
At one point, Justice Khanwilkar cautioned Mr. Luthra that he was not responding to the queries from the Bench, and “if this is your attitude, ₹1 lakh is less”.
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Mr. Luthra said he was trying to respond to the court to the best of his abilities.
The court referred to the observations made by the High Court that the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition was “motivated”.
The Bench recorded in its order that the petitioners had continued to “pursue” their petition against the Central Vista project “for reasons best known to them” despite the government’s affidavit that it was “fully compliant” with COVID-19 safety protocol. The contents of the government affidavit was not challenged by the petitioners, the court noted.
“Mr. Luthra, let me say this to you… PILs have their own sanctity,” Justice Maheshwari remarked.
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In their appeal, the petitioners said the High Court’s judgment on May 31 and imposition of an “exorbitant” fine had “a chilling effect on public spirited individuals raising genuine issues of public health and on the right of citizens to question the actions of the government”.
The High Court judgment had said the Central Vista project was “vital and essential” and had found the petition “motivated”.
The project includes construction activities on Rajpath and the surrounding lawns from the India Gate to the Rashtrapati Bhavan here. The main Central Vista project comprises a new Parliament House, residential complex for the Prime Minister and the Vice-President, office buildings and a Central Secretariat to house various Ministries.
“The whole Central Vista project is an essential project of national importance, where the sovereign functions of Parliament are also to be conducted. Public is vitally interested in this project,” the High Court said.