Centre says Central Vista project saves money, not wastes it; SC reserves verdict

The top court has so far, thrice, refused to stay the project but made it clear that the validity of step taken will be subject to the outcome of the challenge to the project.
Parliament

New Delhi, Nov 5 : The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on pleas challenging the Central Vista project that includes iconic buildings such as Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the North and South Block buildings, which house important ministries, and also the India Gate.

After a detailed hearing in the matter, a bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna said: “Heard counsel for the parties at length. Hearing concluded. Judgment reserved. Parties are free to file additional written notes by November 16.”

The Centre had vehemently defended the Central Vista project before the Supreme Court stating that it “in fact saves up to Rs 1,000 crore annual rent expenditure”.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted, “The project saves money, not wastes it.” Mehta was appearing for the Urban Development Ministry, Delhi Development Authority and Central Public Works Department.

The Centre, in an affidavit, had informed the top court that signs of distress have begun to appear on the nearly 100-year-old Parliament building, which also faces many safety issues. Therefore, it is necessary to construct a modern building for the bicameral House under the Central Vista project.

The Centre also cited the shortfall of about 0.38 million square metres in office space and as a consequence, around Rs 1,000 crore is spent every year as office rent. The Centre has insisted that with a common secretariat for 51 ministries, such expenses can be avoided.

The top court has so far, thrice, refused to stay the project but made it clear that the validity of step taken will be subject to the outcome of the challenge to the project.

Mehta contended before the bench that the project fulfils contemporary needs, and insisted that the heritage buildings will be conserved, not demolished. Mehta argued: “The present Parliament building will be there as it is. The ceremonies will be held in the central hall.”

Mehta submitted that for deciding that a new Parliament is needed, there is no need for a separate study. He added that the policy decision is that all central ministries will have to be at one place and also there is linkage through metro stations which will minimise use of two and four wheelers.

The verdict was reserved on the petitions challenging the project and alleging that there is an illegal change in land use and has urged the court to quash the project. The petitioners have challenged a notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 21, 2019 regarding changes in land use for the redevelopment.

Advocate Rajeev Suri, one of the petitioners, has challenged the changes to land use and standards of population density and that the DDA is not vested with the requisite power to bring about such changes, and insisted that such power lies with the central government. An intervenor cited the environmental concerns due to the re-development plan. Another petitioner Lt. Col (Retd. ) Anuj Srivastava, challenged the public hearings and argued that they were a mere formality.

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