Petition to halt Central Vista Project moved to SC, says “we’ll see”

A plea to halt the construction of the ambitious Central Vista Avenue redevelopment project was mentioned before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The petition, by Anya Malhorta and Sohail Hashmi was filed on the grounds of being a clear breach and violation of the orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority in lieu of the disastrous Covid-19 Pandemic. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the plea saying “we’ll see it” but mentions the lack of availability of a bench at the moment and thus a date has not been finalised as of yet.

The public interest petition was first filed before the Delhi High Court on Tuesday. The bench listed the petition for further hearing on May 17 showing its non inclination towards the plea.

The project has recently been granted the necessary environmental clearance for the expansion and renovation of the existing Parliament building earlier this week by the Environmental Ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). The EAC previously in a meeting held last month had also given environmental clearance for the redevelopment of the Common Central Secretariat buildings and the prime minister’s residence.

Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research while speaking to Hindustan Times noted that, “The Central Vista project has been broken up into several components: a new parliament, Central Vista avenue and now this consolidated proposal which still does not include the Prime Minister’s Office, as the land use change for that is still pending. The EAC which had asked the CPWD to avoid a piece meal approach and submit a consolidated proposal back in November 2020, recommended environment clearance going against its own observations. In effect, the cumulative environmental impact of the Central Vista project, which also includes constructing the new India garden on the Yamuna floodplains has not been assessed.”

With lockdown imposed on the Capital since April 19 pertaining to the rise of Covid-19 cases across the city, The central Vista redevelopment project was considered an “essential service” and deputy commissioner of police for New Delhi district issued movement passes for 180 vehicles engaged in the project work to operate during the lockdown, Scroll report mentioned.

Later with the sharp rise of Covid cases in the city, The Central Public Works Department (CWPD), which is overseeing the project told Scroll reporter “As of now, only those workers who are on the site are allowed, workers from outside are not allowed.” But when NDTV did a spot check at the location, not many were found staying at the construction site.

Many workers also claim that they have not been paid their wages and would much rather be with their families than be stuck at Central Vista during a rampant pandemic in the city and in their hometowns, according to the Scroll report.

India recorded 4,12,262 new infections and 3,980 fatalities in the last 24 hours according to the Health Ministry. Delhi itself currently has over 91,859 active recorded cases with an average of 350 deaths per day from the last week. At a sombre time like this, many have expressed anger on the funds being allocated to such a project as opposed to handling of the crisis in the country.

The CPWD recently announced its revised cost for the project to be Rs 13,450 Crore.

The Central Vista redevelopment project is an ambitious BJP lead project that seeks to rebuild India’s iconic administrative buildings with a 3.2 km stretch called the Central Vista that lies in the centre of Lutyens Delhi built by the British in the 1930’s. The project involves tearing down several historic landmarks and creating modern structures including a new Parliament, PM’s residence and several other administrative buildings. The plan also seems to suggest that many places that are currently accessible to the public will not be so after the completion of the project.

The project on 5th January was given permission by the Supreme Court to continue with the construction after dismissing the petitions challenging the project.