Supreme Court gives go ahead to Centre's Central Vista Project by 2:1 Majority
Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari gave the majority judgement upholding the project, Justice Khanna pronounced a separate dissenting judgement.
The Supreme Court of India on January 5, 2020 upheld the Central Government's proposal for construction of the Central Vista project and the new Parliament building in Lutyen's Delhi by a 2:1 majority.
The judgement was pronounced by a three-judge bench of the apex court comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna. While Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari gave the majority judgement upholding the project, Justice Khanna pronounced a separate dissenting judgement.
Majority Judgement: Key Highlights
•Reading out the majority judgement, Justice AM Khanwilkar said that the route of public interest litigation is being increasingly invoked to call upon the Court to examine pure concerns of policy and generalised grievances against the system.
•The court observed that courts are repositories of immense public trust and the fact that some public interest actions have generated commendable results is noteworthy, but it is equally important to realise that Courts operate within the boundaries defined by the Constitution.
•Justice Khanwilkar said that the court cannot be called upon to govern, as "we have no wherewithal or prowess and expertise in that regard."
•The court said that it is compelled to wonder if it can, in the absence of a legal mandate, dictate the government to desist from spending money on one project and instead use it for something else or if it can ask the government to run their offices only from areas decided by this Court.
•The court also said it is compelled to wonder if it can question the wisdom of the government in focusing on a particular direction of development and if it can jump to put a full stop on the execution of policy matters in the first instance without a demonstration of irreparable loss or urgent necessity, or if it can guide the government on moral or ethical matters without any legal basis.
•The court stated that in the light of the settled law, it would not wish to venture into these areas and observed that the judicial organ is not meant to impose the citizens' or even its version of good governance upon the Government in the name of Rule of Law in exercise of its power of judicial review.
•The court stated that the constitutionally envisaged system of "checks and balances" has been completely misconstrued and misapplied in this case.
•It further said that political issues including regarding development policies of the Government of the day must be debated in the Parliament, to which it is accountable.
•The role of the Court is limited to examining the constitutionality including the legality of the policy and Government actions, the court observed.
•Further, the court stated that the right to development is a basic human right and no organ of the State is expected to become an impediment in the process of development as long as the government proceeds in accordance with law.
•The court held that there is no infirmity in the grant of:
(a) No Objection by the Central Vista Committee (CVC)
(b) Approval by the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) as per the DUAC Act, 1973
(c) Prior approval by the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) under clause 1.12 of the Building Byelaws for Delhi, 2016.
•The court further upheld the power exercised by the Central Government under Section 11A(2) of the DDA Act, 1957, saying it is just and proper and thus the modifications regarding the change in land use of plot Nos. 2 to 8 in the Master Plan of Delhi stands confirmed.
•The recommendation of the Environmental Clearance (EC) by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and was also held to be just, proper and in accordance with law including the 2006 Notification.
•Further, the judgement read that the project proponent may set up smog tower of adequate capacity, as being integral part of the new Parliament building project and additionally use smog guns at the construction site throughout the construction phase.
•The court also called upon the Ministry of Environment and Forests to consider issuing similar general directions regarding the installation of adequate smog towers as an integral part in all future major development projects, particularly in cities with a bad track record of air quality be it relating to Government buildings, townships or other private projects of similar scale and magnitude.
•Justice Khanna presented a separate dissenting judgement. While agreeing with the issue of award of the project, he noted that the matter had to be remitted back to the public hearing as there was no prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee. Speaking on the Environmental Clearance aspect, his judgement noted that it was a non-speaking order.
•Further, while agreeing on the aspect of notice inviting bid, award and order of Urban Commission with the opinion of Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Khanna called the aspect of change of land use as being bad in law.
•He further proceeded to state that it was bad in law as there had been no disclosure for public participation, and there was no prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee.
•Accordingly, Justice Khanna remitted the matter to the HCC.
This judgement was pronounced in a batch of petitions challenging the Rs 20,000 crore worth Central Vista project, which involves the renovation and redevelopment of approximately 86 acres of land in the heart of Lutyens Delhi.
On December 7, 2020, the Supreme Court had allowed the Central Government to conduct the Foundation Ceremony of the Central Vista project without altering the status of the site in any manner.
The top court had slammed the centre for going ahead with the construction works of the project even when the judgment on the pleas was awaited. However, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta had held that no construction or demolition of structures or cutting down of trees would take place.
Accordingly, the Court ordered that there should be no construction or demolition of structures or cutting down of trees in relation to the ambitious Central Vista project of the Central Government.
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