After Delhi High Court adjournment, petitioners move Supreme Court to halt Central Vista construction

The petitioners have sough halt on the construction of the Central Vista redevelopment project in view of the COVID-19 situation in the country and the threat posed by the construction work as a potential super spreader.
After Delhi High Court adjournment, petitioners move Supreme Court to halt Central Vista construction
Central Vista

The petition seeking halt on the construction of the Central Vista redevelopment project in view of the COVID-19 situation in the country was mentioned on Wednesday before the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court had, on Tuesday, adjourned the matter for May 17.

Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for the petitioners, told Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana that movement of labourers and other construction activities at the height of COVID-19 pandemic will wreak havoc on the health system.

He said that the matter should be heard at the earliest emphasising that the petitioners "are not challenging the project itself" but only seeking halt on movement of labourers during pandemic period.

CJI Ramana suggested that the matter be mentioned before the High Court itself but Luthra said that it was already done.

"The ASG agreed to have the matter heard on May 10 but the (High Court) Bench said that it needed time to study the judgment passed by the Supreme Court (giving approval to the project) and posted it for May 17," Luthra replied.

CJI Ramana said that it is because of shortage of judges.

"These are difficult times. I cannot force judges to hear cases," the CJI said.

He said that he will nevertheless examine whether it can be listed.

"You circulate papers, we will see if Bench is available," said the CJI.

When matter came up for hearing on Tuesday before the Delhi High Court, a Bench headed by Chief Justice DN Patel, said that the Bench wants to study the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court in this regard before it hears the matter.

"We are not issuing notice," the High Court clarified.

The matter was thus posted for hearing on May 17 prompting the petitioners to approach the Supreme Court.

The petitioners have sought halt on the construction of the Central Vista redevelopment project in view of the COVID-19 situation in the country and the threat posed by the construction work as a potential super spreader.

The petitioners stated that the urgency and public health emergency sought to be addressed by the petition would stand defeated by adjourning the matter to May 17.

"The very purpose of the petition is to seek a direction to the Respondents to forthwith, stop back and forth movement of workers by buses from Sarai Kale Khan, Karol Bagh, Kirti Nagar and other areas around Delhi (where they reside with their families) to the site of the construction activity at the ‘Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project’ (hereinafter referred to as “the Project”) during the subsistence of this peak phase of the pandemic in New Delhi, when oxygen is in short supply and the healthcare system is in total collapse," the plea said.

The petitioners also submitted that they do not intend to overreach the Supreme Court judgment which had given green signal for the project.

They said that they are merely seeking a temporary halt on the construction work on account of the present public health crisis in the national capital.

The plea contended that there is no rationale for classifying the Central Vista Project as an “essential service”, merely because some executive mandated contractual deadline is ostensibly required be met.

"In the current dismal scenario, this Project has no feature of “essentiality” for and/or of “service” to the public at large. In the absence of provision of on-site accommodation in this Project the impugned acts are totally contrary to and in gross violation of the Orders issued in the public interest by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority," the petition submitted.

The Centre's redevelopment project in the Central Vista area of Lutyens Delhi includes a new Parliament House, a new residential complex that will house the Prime Minister and the Vice-President, as well as several new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to accommodate Ministry offices.

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court had, on January 5, given its green signal to the project, rejecting a batch of petitions challenging the scheme for alleged violation of land use and environmental norms.

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