The Supreme Court’s go-ahead to the controversial Central Vista revamp project clears the way for a new Parliament building. It is envisaged to be ready by August 2022, when the country celebrates its 75th Independence Day. The 2:1 majority verdict came on petitions challenging the December 2019 notification regarding change of land use. The petitioners contended that the notification violated the citizen’s right to life by depriving people of open and green spaces. There were also allegations of violations of municipal and environmental laws, besides lack of transparency. The redevelopment plan aims to free up land in the heart of the Capital and have a common Central Secretariat.
The dissenting verdict came from Justice Khanna, who agreed with Justices Khanwilkar and Maheshwari on the aspects of the notice inviting bids, the award of contract and the order of the urban commission. Where he did not agree was on the issues of change of land use and environmental clearances. Several public figures have been quite vocal in expressing concern regarding the urgency to formalise such a grand project in the times of the Covid emergency and the potential damage to the environs. On the matter of conservation of heritage, the apex court wants clearances to be sought. Also on its to-do list is the setting up of smog towers. The project proponent has been asked to ensure these as an integral part, with directions to the Ministry of Environment and Forests to install smog towers in future projects.
The groundbreaking ceremony last month was boycotted by the Opposition and frowned upon by the apex court since the case was pending. Now that the project has been approved, the Centre needs to reach out across the political spectrum and be mindful of the apprehensions. It claims the Central Vista will take care of deficiencies of the existing Parliament building like inadequate space, structural weaknesses and security problems, and save the public exchequer crores paid as rent for offices. That may be sound logic, but building an edifice for a forum meant for informed discussion and debate while giving these the go-by is a false start.