SC refuses to interfere with Central Vista, asks HC to grant early hearing

NEW DELHI: Citing that the Delhi High Court is already seized of the matter, the Supreme Court on Friday declined to interfere with the Central Vista redevelopment project. A bench comprising Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari granted the petitioner liberty to mention the matter before the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court for early hearing.

The bench also asked the high court to preferably consider the plea for an early hearing. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted that the high court has kept the matter for hearing on May 17. Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, representing the petitioners, argued: “We are facing a humanitarian health crisis. If this project is deferred by four to six weeks nothing will happen.” He added that the IPL has already been suspended and we are facing an unprecedented Covid-19 crisis.

Mehta submitted that the petitioner coming to court by way of a PIL and filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against an adjournment order of the high court raises serious doubt. Mehta said that an appeal against an adjournment would set a wrong precedent. Luthra contended before the bench that when human life is concerned, government has to protect.

He added that from April to May, the positivity rate of Covid-19 in Delhi has increased and number of deaths due to Covid-19, have gone up. “This matter needs consideration. Before High Court, we submitted that we are concerned with the 3.5-4km stretch…We’re at a stage where the health system has broken down, people are dying”, submitted Luthra. The bench responded that it is aware of the situation, but the court cannot make comments about the deaths, as it may be taken otherwise.

Luthra said there are 8 sites which are undergoing construction, we’re not concerned with all, rather we are only concerned with Rajpath, Central Vista stretch and the gardens.

Luthra said: “How can construction be an essential activity? In a health emergency, we can’t risk life of workers and their families and put more pressure on healthcare system.” After a detailed hearing into the matter, the top court said since the matter is pending before high court and appeal is against order of adjournment, it is not inclined to enter into the merits of the case.

The petitioners in the present case urged the top court to halt the construction due to Covid-19 situation in the national capital and the threat posed by the construction work as a potential super spreader.

“Not only does the ongoing construction activity have the potential of being a super spreader event, it is also in clear breach and violation of the orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority,” said the plea filed through advocate Nitin Saluja.

The plea added that petitioners did not seek restraint on any other part of the project such as the construction of the new Parliament building, where, according to information received, provision has been made for onsite accommodation of workers.

On January 5, the top court had given its green signal to the project, rejecting a batch of petitions challenging the scheme for alleged violation of land use and environmental norms. Initially, the petitioners had moved the Delhi High Court, which adjourned the matter for May 17 without passing any orders.