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[Central Vista Project] SC Allows Filing Of Writ Petition Against Environmental Clearance Granted To New Parliament Building; Expands Scope Of Hearing

Sanya Talwar & Nilshish Chaudhary
29 July 2020 8:43 AM GMT
[Central Vista Project] SC Allows Filing Of Writ Petition Against Environmental Clearance Granted To New Parliament Building; Expands Scope Of Hearing

The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the filing of a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution challenging the Environmental Clearance granted on June 17 for the construction of a new Parliament building as part of Union Government's ambitious Central Vista Project.

A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar told Senior Advocate Shyam Divan that his clients will be given a week's time to file the writ petition, thereby expanding the scope of the hearing to include the issue of Environmental Clearances granted on June 17.

This will be in addition to the issue surrounding the legality of the change in land use which is already under the consideration of the top court through two petitions pending before it.

The Centre has to file a reply to the plea within a week of receiving the same.

The matter will be considered next on August 17.

In March, the Supreme Court had transferred to itself the petitions pending in Delhi High Court challenging the Central Vista Project.

On Wednesday, a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari & Sanjiv Khanna took up pleas filed by Rajeev Suri and Lt Col (retd) Anuj Srivastava against the Central Vista redevelopment project.

Senior Advocate Shyam Divan argued in an intervening application (filed on behalf of private individuals carrying expertise in the field) pointed out that the project involves other issues like grant of environmental clearance which can be challenged before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), but that the top court's earlier order posed a hindrance to take recourse to other legal remedies.

When arguments commenced, the bench made it clear that it shall hear the issues pertaining to the aspects of the challenge to "Land Use" only, as have been raised in the main batch of pleas.

At this juncture, Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde submitted that the clearances obtained for the parliament building were part of the Central Vista Project and that there could be no change in land use in terms of the same.

Divan continued to make submissions challenging the legality of the Environmental clearances granted on June 17. He added that the process of grant of EC was ridden with non application of mind on part of the EAC and that mandatory legal process was unaccounted for in the case.

He submitted that the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ought to have considered the proposal for new Parliament building as a part of the Central Vista Project for the purpose of Environmental Clearance, instead of treating it as a standalone project.

Ultimately, the bench ordered:

"...Heard preliminary objections by Senior Advocate Shyam Divan. Mr Divan submits that applicants will file Substantive Writ Petition challenging June 17's Environmental clearance while maintaining the preliminary objections already raised. Respondents have no objection to this. A response to be filed by the Union of India to the writ being filed by Mr Divan. We allow a week's time to Mr Divan to file the petition and a week to centre to reply within a week of receiving the plea from Mr Divan..."

In light of this, the bench stated that it shall hear the issues pertaining to land use in the week commencing August 17.

Last week, the Central Public Works Department had filed an affidavit stating that a new parliament building was necessary as the existing building was old, unsafe and packed to capacity.

Background:

The two pleas already before the top court contend that 20th March notification of the Government, which supersedes a Public Notice issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on 19 December, 2019, is a subjugation of the Rule of Law and judicial protocol as the 2019 notice is currently sub judice before the Supreme Court.

With regard to the Government's Rs. 20,000 crore Central Vista project, the DDA had issued a Public Notice inviting objections against proposed changes in land use in December 2019.

This notification was challenged before the Delhi High Court on account of being ultra vires Section 11A of the Delhi Development Act 1957, as well as being beyond the powers of DDA to do so. It was further contested that the plan was not in conformity with the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 (MPD2021) and in violation of "larger laws of the country".

On March 6, a Bench comprising of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari transferred the matter to itself.

On March 20, 2020 the Centre notified a change in land use pertaining to approximately 86 acres of land in the heart of Lutyens Delhi, marked by structures like the Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, North Block and South Block amongst others. The same petitioner then moved the Apex Court with a fresh plea against the Centre's notification.

Urging the Court to quash the March 2020 notification issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the instant plea avers that the decision was in violation of a citizen's extended version of Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21. Calling it a brash move, the plea claims that it would deprive people of enjoying highly treasured open and green spaces.

"(The notification) is violative of Article 21 of Constitution of India and, violates the extended version of Article 21 the Right to life, guaranteed by the Constitution of India. That Respondent No. 1 brashly issued Notification No. SO 1192 (E) dated 20th March 2020, changing land use, which will deprive residents of Delhi and citizens of India a vast chunk of highly treasured open and green space in the Central Vista area, available for public, semi-public, social and recreational activity, stands against Article 21, Right to Life the right to enjoyment of a wholesome life."

The plea further invokes Article 49 of the Constitution to assert that the State is obligated to protect places and objects of national importance. Citing the Public Trust Doctrine to buttress this point, the plea urges that it is "upon the State to protect such resources for the use of the general public, rather than to permit it only for use of a certain class or section of the people."

On April 30, the Supreme Court refused to stay the project, stating that "during COVID-19, nobody is going to do anything", referring to possible construction on the allocated land.

On 19 June, the Central Government informed the Supreme Court that it could not give an assurance that no work on the ground would be done with respect to the Central Vista project, despite Hegde submitting that administrative clearances were being given, with no objections. The Bench, however, raised the question whether the Apex Court could restrain the authorities from acting as per the law.

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