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"Judges Not Available, If a Bench Is Available, We Will see": CJI Ramana expresses disinterest in hearing Plea to Stop Construction Activities in Central Vista amid COVID Surge

By Nargis Bano      May 08, 2021      0 Comments      1,397 Views
Construction Activities in Central Vista Project

On Wednesday (May 5, 2021), the Supreme Court heard a petition for the suspension of all construction activity related to the Central Vista Redevelopment Project in accordance with the orders issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority in the aftermath of the COVID-19 surge in the national capital.

The petition was filed before the Delhi High Court May 4, 2021, by Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi. During the hearing before the division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh, the bench expressed its disinclination to issue a notice in the plea and scheduled a further hearing for May 17th. 

The petition was strongly opposed by ASG Chetan Sharma, who appeared on behalf of the Centre, and Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, who represented the petitioner.

On Thursday, Mr. Luthra told the bench, led by CJI N. V. Ramana that, "We are not challenging the project. Your Lordships' decision has settled the matter. We can only hope that the back-and-forth movement of 150 labourers in buses from Sarai Kale Khan to the construction site ceases during the peak of the pandemic. It will devastate our ailing health-care system".

"What's the problem if you want to shift someone? Shift!" exclaimed the bench.

"All construction in the national capital has been halted in accordance with the DDMA order," Mr. Luthra added.

"Mr. Luthra, please...please the matter has been referred to the High Court. Everyone will come to the SC if we start allowing this,"the CJI stated.

When CJ Ramana suggested that the case be heard by the Delhi High Court, Mr. Luthra responded, "I did bring it up. The ASG agreed with us and agreed to schedule the matter for May 10. However, the bench stated that it needs time to study Your Lordships' judgement and scheduled the case for May 17."

"These are hard times. There are no judges available. We don't have enough people. I was also infected... I can't read the newspapers... This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I cannot compel all judges to hear cases ", the CJI stated.

"COVID infected me as well. I just got out of quarantine last night ", Mr. Luthra stated.

"You circulate the papers, and if a bench is available, we will see," the CJI assured.

The petition states that the construction of the aforementioned project has a "super spreading potential and threat" to the workers who are exposed to the infection on a daily basis while working and without pay.

It describes the Union of India and the Central Public Works Department's "relentless, unmindful, and reckless act" of carrying out the Project, which poses a threat to the lives of Delhi residents, as having "the potential of being a super spreader and is in clear breach and violation of the Orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority."

The plea further states, 

"The Project's construction cannot be equated to a necessary activity." There is no urgency in the construction of the Project, and there is no reason why it cannot be halted at a time when Delhi is experiencing an unprecedented health crisis. There is no rational basis for distinguishing between workers engaged in the Project's construction and workers engaged in any other activity. 

Ultimately, it prays for  the following -

  • Issue a Writ/Order/Direction in the nature of mandamus commanding Respondents No. 1 & 2 to immediately halt / suspend all construction activity on the Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project awarded to Respondent No. 4 in accordance with Orders issued by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority during the pandemic's peak phase.
  • Issue a mandamus Writ/Order/Direction commanding and directing Respondent No. 3 to withdraw and rescind the Movement Pass dated 19.04.2021.
  • If this Hon'ble Court grants the relief requested in Prayer I issue directions to Respondents No. 1, 2, and 4 to ensure that all workers are paid their full wages, despite suspension work, and to pay and release wage arrears to workers/laborers engaged in the Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project.

In January of this year, the Supreme Court upheld the Central Government's plan for the Central Vista project, as well as the government's proposal to build a new Parliament in Lutyens' Delhi.

The judgement was delivered by a bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and Sanjiv Khanna, with Justices Khanwilkar and Maheshwari forming the majority and Justice Khanna pronouncing a separate judgement.

The court reserved judgement on these petitions on November 5, 2020, challenging the Rs. 20,000 crore Central Vista project, which involves the renovation and redevelopment of approximately 86 acres of land in the heart of Lutyens Delhi, marked by structures such as the Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, North Block, and South Block, among others.

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