Central vista project including new Parliament building faced several court cases

New Delhi: The ambitious redevelopment project of the nation’s power corridor, Central Vista, which includes the new Parliament building inaugurated on Sunday, faced several legal challenges in the last few years.

The project was announced in September 2019 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the new Parliament building on December 10, 2020.

All the controversies or disputes related to the project have been invariably landing in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court, the latest being a PIL by a lawyer seeking a direction to the Lok Sabha Secretariat for the inauguration of the new Parliament building by President Droupadi Murmu.

Two days before the inauguration of Parliament by Prime Minister Modi, a vacation bench of the top court junked the PIL filed by Tamil Nadu-based lawyer Jaya Sukin.

The NDA government’s Central Vista project also envisages a common central secretariat and revamping of the three-km-long Rajpath, from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.

The first court case against the project was filed in 2020 in the Delhi High Court by Rajeev Suri and Anuj Srivastava and others assailing the grant of Environmental Clearance and the approval by the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) and the Heritage Conservation Committee for land use change as per the DDA Act and selection of design consultant, etc.

On February 11, 2020, a single judge bench of Justice Rajiv Shakdher of the high court directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to approach the court before notifying any change to the Master Plan for going ahead with the project.

The Centre challenged the order before a division bench of the high court which on February 28, 2020, stayed its single judge’s direction to the DDA.

Later, the top court, in March 2020, transferred to itself the matter from the Delhi High Court in “larger public interest” and it also heard other fresh petitions challenging the project together.

The Supreme Court, on January 5, 2021, came out with its verdict and, by a majority of 2:1, gave the green signal to the Rs 13,500 -crore Central Vista revamp project, holding there was “no infirmity” in the grant of environment clearance and permissions for change of land use.

The majority verdict had observed that it cannot jump to put a “full stop” on the execution of policy matters and the courts cannot be called upon to “govern”.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna gave a dissenting judgement in which he touched upon issues like the “failure” to take prior approval from the Heritage Conservation Committee(HCC). He also said public participation is not to be a mechanical exercise or formality.

Then, in April 2021, translator Anya Malhotra and historian and documentary filmmaker Sohail Hashmi filed a PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking suspension of construction work, raising health and other safety concerns during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Delhi High Court bench of then chief justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, on May 31, 2021, allowed the construction work of the project to continue, saying it was a “vital and essential” national project.

The high court dismissed the PIL with costs of Rs 1 lakh. The top court also refused to entertain the appeal against the high court’s order and refused to remove the costs imposed on the petitioners.

The petitioners selectively challenged the Central Vista project, leaving out other project works, the apex court bench had said.

The top court also dealt with the pleas challenging the design of the lion statue atop the new Parliament building. The court held that the lion sculpture did not violate the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act, 2005.

The petitioners, lawyer Aldanish Rein and others, had claimed that the lions in the emblem appeared to be ferocious and aggressive with their mouths open and canine visible.

The PIL had said the lion sculptures at Sarnath, the original source of the national emblem, look “calm and composed”.

The last one was the PIL by advocate Jaya Sukin seeking a direction to the Lok Sabha Secretariat for the inauguration of the new Parliament building by President Droupadi Murmu.

“What is your interest in filing this petition? We understand why you have come with such petitions. Sorry, we are not interested in entertaining this petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. Be grateful, we are not imposing costs,” a vacation bench comprising justices JK Maheshwari and PS Narasimha said this Friday.

Sukin said under Article 79, the president is the executive head of the country and she should have been invited.

Built at an estimated cost of Rs 1200 crore, the new Parliament building can comfortably seat 888 members in the Lok Sabha chamber and 300 in the Rajya Sabha chamber.

In the case of a joint sitting of both Houses, a total of 1,280 members can be accommodated in the Lok Sabha chamber.