New Parliament building
New Parliament building

NEW DELHI: By a majority judgment of 2 to 1, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the Central Vista Project and construction of a new Parliament building, the dream projects of PM Modi who wishes to change the face of the national capital. The court held that there is no infirmity in the approvals accorded by the Delhi Urban Art Commission and the Heritage Conservation Committee.

In a 432-page majority judgment, the court observed that the government's decision to change the land use for the project was "just and proper" and so was the clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The court, however, ordered setting up of smog towers of adequate capacity as an integral part of the new Parliament building and use of smog guns at the construction site. It also directed the MOEF to install smog towers in all future major development projects, particularly in cities with track record of bad air quality.

It also ordered that prior permission of the Heritage Conservation Committee be taken before the actual start of construction work, and not in the incipient stage of planning and formalisation.

In his 179-page dissenting judgment, Justice Sanjiv Khanna quashed the notification of March 28, 2020, on changes in the land use of six plots in the Central Vista, taking note of the petitioners' main grievance that the project was hurried without proper public consultation, and ordered fresh public scrutiny.

Justice Khanna gave seven grounds for dissenting from the majority judgment. His basic reservation was that there has been no public participation in the decision; also, there was no prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee and the Expert Appraisal Committee of the MOEF. Mere uploading the gazette notification on land use change was not sufficient, he ruled.

He said the project involves complete redevelopment of the Central Vista area whose impact would not be "minor." He said the proposed project rather envisages extensive change of the landscape. He noted that reasonable time was not given to the public to respond and the government firmed up its decision even before the public hearing on February 6 and 7. He also noted that the environment clearance was given mechanically, without application of mind as no reasons were recorded justifying the conclusion.

He ordered the Centre to "put in public domain on the web, intelligible and adequate information, along with drawings and layout plans, within seven days" and advertise the date, time and place of the public hearing by the Heritage Conservation Committee.

The majority judgment noted that the objective of the project is to create a larger working space for efficient functioning of the highest legislative wing of the country (read Parliament) and integrate the administrative block for ministries that are presently spread out at different locations.

It noted that the Parliament House building is a Grade-I heritage structure of 93 years, commissioned in 1927, which does not meet the requirements of an increasing number of MPs; also, the Central Hall with a seating capacity of only 440 persons cannot accommodate MPs of both the Houses during a joint session.

ONLY PARLIAMENT CAN DEBATE POLICIES

In its majority judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday noted that its hands are tied by the Constitution and "we cannot be called upon to govern; for, we have no wherewithal or prowess and expertise in this regard.’’ Reading out the lengthy judgment, presiding judge Justice A M Khanwilkar wrote that "the constitutionally envisaged system of 'checks and balances' has been completely misconstrued and misapplied in this case.

"The principle of 'checks and balances' posits two concepts -- 'check' and 'balance.' Whereas the former finds a manifestation in the concept of judicial review, the latter is derived from the well enshrined principle of separation of powers.

"The political issues, including regarding development policies of the Government of the day, must be debated in Parliament, to which it is accountable. The role of court is limited to examining the constitutionality, including legality of the policy and government actions.

"The right to development, as discussed above, 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."

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