Central Vista essential project of national importance, work to continue: HC

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New Delhi, May 31 (PTI) Describing the Central Vista Avenue redevelopment, which entails construction activities on Rajpath and the surrounding lawns from the India Gate to the Rashtrapati Bhawan, as a 'vital and essential' project of national importance, the Delhi High Court on Monday dismissed the plea against it saying it was 'motivated' and filed with 'ill-intent' and 'lack of bonafides'. While allowing the construction activity to continue, a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh imposed cost of Rs one lakh on the petitioners who wanted the work to be halted in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, observing that it was 'not a genuine public interest litigation'.

The high court said it disagreed with the petitioners's claim that the project was not an essential activity and therefore, should be halted during the prevailing pandemic.

'The present petition has been filed to stop with immediate effect the work of the redevelopment of Central Vista Avenue. This work is part and parcel of Central Vista project and of vital public importance. The construction of Central Vista Avenue redevelopment project cannot be seen in isolation.

'In fact, 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 bench said.

The high court further said,'We are of the view that this is a motivated petition preferred by the petitioners and not a genuine public interest litigation. In view of the aforesaid, present petition is hereby dismissed with costs of Rs 1,00,000 to be deposited by the petitioners with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority within four weeks from today.

'The aforesaid amount shall be utilized for the programme 'Access to Justice'.' The high court said the legality of the project was already upheld by the Supreme Court and even the Delhi Disaster Management Authority allowed it to continue.

The main Cental Vista project envisages building a new Parliament House, a new residential complex to house offices and the prime minister and the vice president. It will also have new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to accommodate various ministries 'offices.

Giving reasons for its decision, the bench said that all the orders issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) from April 6 to April 25 do not prohibit construction activity where the labourers reside on site as was the situation in the present case.

'..since the workers who are working at the project are staying on site, no question of issuing directions to suspend the work of Central Vista Avenue redevelopment project, whatsoever, arises' it said.

The high court also said that from the affidavits filed by the Centre and the contractor -- Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt Ltd (SPCPL) -- it was 'clearly evident' that several facilities, like accommodation, medical facilities and COVID care centre, have been provided to the workers at the site.

'Respondent No.4 (SPCPL) has ensured that COVID-19 protocols and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour like social/physical distancing, thermal screening, masking, sanitization etc. are scrupulously adhered to and implemented at the project site.

'Additionally, facilities for isolation and conducting RT-PCR test have been provided and safety measures have been put in place, to avoid any kind of spread or mis-happening due to coronavirus,' the court noted in its 23-page judgement.

The bench also said that the petitioners -- Anya Malhotra, a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary filmmaker -- '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 Central Vista Project' when several other construction projects were also going on in the city.

The high court said that SPCPL has to complete its work on or before November 2021 and 'time is of the essence of the contract'.

It said that the petitioners have 'casually argued' that the time limit can be extended.

'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 DDMA are not flouted or violated,' it said.

It further said if the Central Vista Avenue redevelopment project, which is a sub-set of the main project and 'is equally important and essential as the main project', is stopped by the court, the main project cannot be completed within the stipulated time.

'Once the workers are staying at the site and all facilities have been provided by respondent No.4, COVID-19 protocols are adhered to and COVID-19 appropriate behaviour is being followed, there is no reason for this court while exercising powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to stop the project,' the bench said. PTI HMP HMP RKS RKS