The Supreme Court has yesterday delivered its judgment in a batch of Public Interest Litigations which were filed challenging the 'Central Vista Project' of the Government of India that proposes, "Development/Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista at New Delhi". Broadly, the Petitions alleged that the Government has taken key decisions regarding the Central Vista Project in an opaque manner to cover up a predetermined outcome. It was also alleged that the Central Vista Project in its conception and implementation violates the minimum standards of procedure in a constitutional democracy, i.e., openness, stakeholder consultation, effective public participation, debate and discussion and fairness.
It was prayed by the Petitioners that the Central Vista Project be declared ultra vires the Constitution of India and held illegal, null and void. Further, the redesigning of Central Vista, including the Parliament building, may be carried out (i) only after an objective and independent assessment with stakeholders regarding the necessity of such a project; (ii) through widely publicised 'Open Design Competition'; (iii) by adopting a transparent process with adequate timelines that enable wide participation in the consultancy, design and execution phases and (iv) through the selection of the design by a representative and independent jury. Consequently, it was also prayed that the award of the consultancy bid to HCP Design, Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd. should be quashed and set aside.
However, by a majority judgment of Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, the Supreme Court has upheld the Central Vista Project. It has held as follows:
- there was no infirmity in the grant of no objection by the Central Vista Committee; approval by the Delhi Urban Art Commission; and prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee;
- modifications regarding change in land use of plot no. 228 in Master Plan of Delhi, 2021 and Zonal Development Plan for Zone C and D stands confirmed;
- recommendation on environmental clearance by Expert Appraisal Committee and grant by MOEF was just proper and in accordance with law;
- the project proponent may set up smoke towers of adequate capacity as the integral part of the new parliament building project and use smoke guns in the construction area throughout the construction phase.
- The stage of prior permission under clause 1.3 of the Building Bylaws of the Heritage Conservation Committee is the stage of actual development/redevelopment work is to commence and not at the planning and formalization of the project. Accordingly, the Respondents shall obtain the prior permission before actually starting any development / redevelopment work, including on the plot 118, if not already done.
- The selection of the consultant was just and proper.
Justice Sanjiv Khanna, while concurring on the aspects of Notice Inviting Bid, award of consultancy and the order of the Urban Art Commission, has however rendered his separate and independent judgment, dissenting on the following aspects of the case:
- Grant of change of land use was bad in law because of lack of intelligible and adequate disclosure for public participation and that there was no prior approval of the heritage Conservation Committee. Therefore, the issue should be remitted.
- The approval given by the Expert Appraisal Committee on environmental clearance was a 'non-speaking order' and accordingly the approval shall be remitted to Expert Appraisal Committee.
The design consultant for the Central Vista Project, HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd., was represented by Mr. Harish Salve, Senior Advocate, assisted by Advocates from Karanjawala & Co. - Ms. Ruby Singh Ahuja, Ms. Deepti Sarin, Ms. Tahira Karanjawala and Mr. Anupm Prakash.