SC dismisses plea against Delhi HC order rejecting PIL to halt Central Vista work



NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea challenging the Delhi High Court order which had rejected a PIL seeking to halt Central Vista construction work in view of the COVID pandemic.

A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose said it is not inclined to interfere with the high court order as the PIL petitioners had selectively chosen Central Vista project and did not even do basic research about other public projects which were allowed during the lockdown in the national capital.

It said the high court findings on the PIL that it was “motivated” and filed with “ill-intent” and “lack of bona fides” is a possible view.

The top court also refused to interfere with the Rs 1 lakh cost imposed on the petitioners.

The main Central 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.

During the hearing, the bench said, “if this was your conduct, then Rs 1 lakh cost was less”, adding that when an affidavit was filed before the high court that the project was fully compliant with COVID protocols, then why did you pursue the case.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for petitioners — Anya Malhotra, a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary film maker — said that when the petition was filed they were non-compliant and later they have complied with the conditions.

“They were non-compliant from April 19 to April 30”, he said.

The bench said that being public spirited persons had they done research on how many projects were given permission to continue the construction activity and how they selected this Central project.

“As a PIL petitioner, have you done any honest research as to how many other public projects were allowed and how did you pick up this project and say that it will be a super spreader of virus,” the bench said.

Luthra said the petitioners were specific that they wanted order only with respect to stalling the construction activity which was not in compliance with the COVID protocol directions issued by Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).

On May 31, the Delhi High Court had described 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.

It had dismissed the PIL against it saying it was “motivated” and filed with “ill-intent” and “lack of bona fides” and imposed a cost of Rs 1 lakh on the petitioners, while observing that it was “not genuine public interest litigation”.

The high court had said it disagreed with the petitioners’ 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 the Central Vista project and of vital public importance. The construction of Central Vista Avenue redevelopment project cannot be seen in isolation,” it said.

“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,” it added.

The high court further said that this is a motivated petition preferred by the petitioners and not a genuine public interest litigation and dismissed it with Rs 1 lakh to be deposited by the petitioners with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority within four weeks.

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