Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The new Parliament complex with a built-up area of approximately 60,000 metre square was expected to be ready by 2022 (Tata Projects won the bid in September to construct the building for ₹862 crore). (File Photo)
The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to immediately stop all construction and ancillary activities in the historically significant Central Vista area of New Delhi where a new Parliament, Central Secretariat and union ministries’ offices are planned to be built.
With the court rebuking the Centre for reportedly going ahead with constructions and shifting of trees in the area without waiting for a final judgment on validity of the Central Vista redevelopment plan, the government had to furnish an apology and record an undertaking to restrain itself.
“We thought we were dealing with a prudent litigant,” the SC bench, led by justice AM Khanwilkar, told solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who represented the Central government in the bunch of petitions that have challenged the Central Vista plan over change of land use, conservation of heritage structures and environmental regulations.
The bench, which included justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, referred to a recent press release issued by the government as well as certain media reports about how trees were being shifted since the construction on the proposed site may begin this month.
“The fact that there is no stay does not mean you can go ahead with everything. We did not expect you to go ahead and start construction so aggressively. We only allowed you to go ahead with the paperwork but we are now concerned over all this,” it said.
The bench reminded Mehta that the court order on March 6 this year clearly recorded that everything the authorities do pertaining to the redevelopment project would be subject to its judgment.
“We showed you some deference when we did not pass a specific order of stay on that date (March 6). We expected you to also show deference to this court. But now, we want to make it clear. No constructions, no demolition, no cutting of trees till we finally decide…we can pass that order today itself,” the bench told Mehta.
At this, the solicitor general requested the bench to give him time till Tuesday to come back with instructions, as he added that some trees might have already been translocated, but that the construction is still two months away. In response, the bench asked Mehta to seek instructions from competent authorities on the phone right away.
Five minutes later, Mehta joined the proceedings again, and tendered an apology on behalf of the government.
“We tender our apology. On instructions, I am ready to make a statement that there will be no construction, no demolition, no cutting of trees or translocation till this court finally decides the matter,” Mehta submitted before the bench.
The court then recorded the solicitor general’s undertaking in its order while clarifying that the government could only proceed with the foundation stone laying ceremony on December 10, and procedural paperwork but that there cannot be alterations to the site.
“We don’t want any physical changes or alterations because they can be irreversible,” it told Mehta while wrapping up the suo motu (on its own notice) proceedings.
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Ahmedabad-based HCP Design Planning and Management Private Ltd has been tasked with redeveloping the Central Vista avenue, which includes constructing a new Parliament building with state-of-the-art technology and expanded seating for over 1,200 members of both Houses, 11 buildings to house the administrative offices of all 51 central ministries, an underground Metro station running below these Central Secretariat offices, chambers for members of the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office and residence, and even an arboretum of rare plants behind the Mughal Gardens.
The redevelopment plan also involves turning the North and South Blocks into a National Museum, refurbishing and extending the National Archives, and moving the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts to the India Gate hexagon. The new Parliament complex with a built-up area of approximately 60,000 metre square was expected to be ready by 2022 (Tata Projects won the bid in September to construct the building for ₹862 crore).
The other structures had varied timelines but the entire project was expected to be completed by 2024. The bench had on November 5 reserved its judgment in the matter after hearing in detail a clutch of petitions. Argued through senior counsel Shyam Divan, Sanjay Hegde and advocate Shikhil Suri, the petitions 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, by the Delhi Development Authority.
Issues of environmental norms and possible destruction of heritage buildings have also been raised in the petitions, which have further emphasised that the “Central Vista is a symbol of India’s historic past, its nationhood and its vibrant democracy.”
On its part, the Central government, through the solicitor general, has defended the project, saying the plan was based on a broad vision to save approximately ₹1,000 crore of public money every year by housing all the ministries in 10 buildings that will be connected through a metro route, and improving their coordination.
It has added that the existing Parliament building, on account of being nearly 100 years old, was under tremendous pressure and that not a brick of the heritage structures will be touched while building a new Parliament, Central Secretariat and various ministries.