The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the new Parliament building to go ahead as scheduled on December 10 after the government gave an undertaking to keep in abeyance construction or demolition of buildings and shifting of trees in the Central Vista area for now.
A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar expressed displeasure with the Centre for “aggressively” continuing with the construction, demolition and shifting of trees even as the questions concerning the legality of the Central Vista project was in court.
“We thought we are dealing with a prudent litigant and deference will be shown...We have shown deference to you and expected that you will act in a prudent manner. The same deference should be shown to the Court and there should be no demolition or construction,” Justice Khanwilkar addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre.
Mr. Mehta, after receiving instructions from the government, apologised to the court and gave an undertaking that no physical changes would be made to the area.
“I can make a statement that there will be no construction, demolition or felling of trees. Foundation stone will be laid. But, no physical change,” Mr. Mehta assured.
“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. We take that statement on record. 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 December 10, 2020,” the order said.
The court said the case was listed suo motu on Monday as it had noticed certain “developments”.
The Bench had, on November 5, reserved its judgment on the petitions challenging the redevelopment project of Central Vista area in the National Capital.
The court would be considering whether the project complied with land use and environmental regulations peculiar to the area which houses the Parliament and Central Secretariat buildings.
The government had defended its multi-crore Central Vista redevelopment plan, saying the existing Parliament building which is nearly a 100 years old is under tremendous pressure and not a brick of the heritage structures will be touched while constructing the new Parliament, Central Secretariat and various Ministries.
Mr. Mehta had argued that the redevelopment plan was a “broad vision”, and on the practical side, it would save the public exchequer ₹1,000 crore in annual expenditure, besides improve coordination among Ministries which would be housed in 10 buildings vantageously connected via metro rail.
The petitioners had objected to the proposed change in land usage of the Central Vista, the historical boulevard of approximately 3.5 km from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate, and further to the National Stadium, which is a symbol of India’s historic past, its nationhood, its vibrant democracy.
“It is where living history breathes from every inch of this cherished stretch of land, where the Republic Day parade and Beating Retreat are held every year. Central Vista is an essential ingredient of our sovereignty and pride, and also where recreational spaces are available for the enjoyment by the citizens,” they had contended.