Supreme Court Upholds Central Vista Project by 2:1 Majority

Supreme Court Upholds Central Vista Project by 2:1 Majority

In the first noteworthy decision of 2021, the Apex Court endorsed the Central Government’s plan for construction of the Central Vista project and the proposal of the government to construct a new Parliament in Lutyen’s Delhi.

A Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna marked the judgment by a 2:1 majority that the exercise of the power under the Delhi Development Authority Act was just and valid and that the grant of environmental clearances by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change was also valid and proper.

“Selection and appointment of environmental consultant in the case is held to be just and proper. Modifications regarding change in land use stand confirmed,” Justice AM Khanwilkar read out the majority judgment on behalf of himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari.

Whereas, Justice Sanjiv Khanna dissented from the majority verdict “I have agreed with brother judge, Justice Khanwilkar on notice inviting bid and award of project.

However, on the question of grant of change of land use, I have a different opinion. I have held that the same was bad in law. There was no prior approval of Heritage Conservation Committee and thus matter is remitted back for public hearing. On the environmental clearance aspect, it was a non-speaking order,” Justice Khanna delivered his dissenting opinion.

Brief Background

  • The Central government is planning the renovation of the Central Vista area by constructing a new Parliament house, as well a new residential complex for the Prime Minister and the Vice-President, and several other new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to house the Ministry offices.
  • A notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 21, 2019 relating to the changes in land use for the redevelopment was challenged by the petitioners in the Apex Court.
  • Meena Gupta, a former Secretary of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, filed an intervention application in the pending case stressing environmental distresses owing to the redevelopment.

Main Arguments of the Petitioners

  • The petitioners submitted that the changes involved to the use of land and standards of population density and that the DDA is not vested with the requisite power to bring about such changes. It further argued that the power for bringing about such changes, if at all, lies with the Central government.

Contention of Central Government

  • The Central government urged that the project in dispute for the construction of a new Parliament building and a Central Secretariat has become an absolute necessity due to the stress on the present ones.
  • Further it also stated that all necessary statutory approvals including environmental clearances were in place and that the project cannot be scrapped merely because the petitioners felt a better process or method could have been adopted. Unless there was any violation of Constitutional or legal provisions, the Court should refrain from scrapping the project and there was no occasion to warrant judicial interference in the present case, Mehta submitted.
  • Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said that, “There is an imminent need to have a new Parliament building. The current building was built in 1927 prior to independence and was intended to house the legislative council and not a bicameral legislature we have today. The building does not conform to fire safety norms and water and sewer lines are also haphazard which is damaging the heritage nature of the building. Both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are packed. When joint sessions are held, members sit on plastic chairs diminishing the dignity of the House.”
  • “We have to run around the city to go to different ministries, increasing traffic and pollution. The policy decision is that all Central ministries have to be at one place and that place has to be one which has historical significance”, Mehta submitted on the issue of construction of a new Central Secretariat.

Compendium of Judgment

(i) We hold 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; and

(c) “Prior approval” by the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) under clause 1.12 of the Building Byelaws for Delhi, 2016.

(ii) We further hold that the exercise of power by the Central Government under Section 11A(2) of the DDA Act, 1957 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, 2021/Zonal Development Plan for Zone-D and Zone-C vide impugned notification dated 20.3.2020 stands confirmed.

 (iii) The recommendation of Environmental Clearance (EC) by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and grant thereof by MoEF is just, proper and in accordance with law including the 2006 Notification. We uphold the same along with appropriate directions therein to ensure that the highlighted mitigating measures are followed by the project proponent in their letter and spirit.

(iv)  The project proponent may set up smog tower(s) 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 is in progress on the site.

 (v) We also call upon the respondent MoEF to consider issuing similar general directions regarding the installation of adequate capacity of smog tower(s) as an integral part in all future major development projects whilst granting development permissions, 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, including to use smog guns during the construction activity of the Project is in progress.

(vi) The stage of prior permission under clause 1.3 of the Building Bye-Laws of the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC), is the stage of actual development/redevelopment etc. work is to commence and not the incipient stage of planning and formalization of the Project. Accordingly, the respondents shall obtain the aforementioned prior permission of the designated Authority before actually starting any development/redevelopment work on the stated plots/structures/precincts governed by the heritage laws including on plot No. 118, if already not obtained.

(vii) The selection/appointment of Consultant, in light of the limited examination warranted in this case, is held to be just and proper.


Citation: TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO. 229 OF 2020

Supreme Court Upholds Central Vista Project by 2:1 Majority

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