On the challenge to Central Vista project and the government’s proposal to construct a new Parliament in Lutyen’s Delhi, the Supreme Court on Monday resumed the hearings.
Challenging the change in the land use of plot no.01 of central Vista project, the court disposed off the petition adding that it will be taken at the later stage as the decision of its usage has not been yet taken by the Government. The bench Justice AM Khanvilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjeev Khanna had earlier decided to hear on the three issues; i.e. violation of Municipal Law, violation of Environmental Law and vis-à-vis Change of land use.
On behalf of certain petitioner, Adv. Sanjay Hegde on Monday began that, “Had the administrative authority given the same patient hearing that we have got before the Supreme Court, many of us would not be here. Also, a lot of paperwork which was not originally available is now present in public domain”
He added; “The SG had said What kind of people are these who want to stop a new Parliament building? Our only concern is that if a public architecture is being built for 150-200 years, then government must proceed in a clear, transparent manner in accordance with the law and ensure public participation.”
“Architects see things in terms of spaces, and this is a space which is sacred to modern India in terms of its history. We need to appreciate the considerations relevant to the architects, the people using the space and the people sanctioning the development”, Hegde continued.
Taking the bench through 2017 paper on the history of the Architecture of Supreme court of India, demonstrating the efforts taken and process followed which resulted in present building in 1958. He quoted “The law banks on visual means of representation” which includes the “physical architecture of the court buildings, special arrangements, and even the artifacts and the paintings”, without which “justice is unrecognised”.
A model was placed for public consultation when the Supreme Court was built he added. Examining the scale model of the Supreme Court prior to the building coming into existence, he narrated how it was deliberated whether the building of Supreme Court should be in capital city or at more centre location, and on post detailed discussion, it came to be in Delhi.
Justice A M Khanvilkar asked, “What is the purpose of extensively going through this document”? On this Adv. Hegde replied “To canvass the elaborate efforts that went into constructing the SC building as it stands today, as opposed to what is being done now in context of an entire section of Delhi, which is the heart of the country?
In view of the national importance of Central Vista and Secretariat Complex situated on Raj path, New Delhi, the Ministry of Works Housing and Supply Now, Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA) in 1962 felt the need for the planned development to bring the entire area under strict architectural control. It was therefore decided to form a specialised study group of architects and town planners to advise the Government of India on the development aspect. A committee to advise the Government of India which was reconstituted by the MoHUA in 2002 and 2019.Adv Hegde said that “The body is now called the Special Advisory Group of Central Vista and Central Secretariat”
On March 06, as regards to the proposal of the land-use change, order of Your Lordship stating that any steps in this direction shall subject to the final outcome of these petition. The land-use change was allowed on March 20. On 24 March the nationwide lockdown was announced. Despite numerous representations to the CVC, the CPWD placed a proposal for the new building before the Central Vista committee. Amid lockdown, via video conferencing it held a meeting on 23 April in which it was granted a NOC to the proposal!, he argued.
“What is the scope of inquiry of the CVC into the proposal? Is it supposed to go into the designing and the planning or is that to be done by some other department? Under what provision was the CVC created?” asked Justice Khanvilkar.
“Everything that has ever been done in the Central Vista has always gone through the CVC. It was even reconstituted in 2019”, replied Adv. Hegde.
“And the object remains the same?” asked Justice Khanvilkar. Mr. Hegde replied in the affirmative, adding that all terms and conditions of functioning remain unchanged and only the composition has been altered. “The terms and conditions which you say are unchanged pertain to the appointments and the financial matters.” noted Justice Khanvilkar.
Justice Khanna observed, “I think legally, the only thing we can rely on it is for procedural legitimate expectation, no beyond that”.
“It is a study group, not a statutory body to advise the government. It is not a decision-taking body. How relevant is it in administrative law? An administrative committee is a body to assist the governing body. Even if we assume that it is a ‘committee’, does it have to state its reasons? Is it necessary to go into all these details?” asked Justice Maheshwari.
Justice Khanvilkar reflected; “The nomenclature is not ‘committee’, but ‘special advisory group’. It is not even ‘study group’. It is a MoHUA advisory. Whatever research or study is there, just place it before the group. It is not to conduct a scrutiny of the entire proposal- heritage, environment norms. That is for the statutory committee to do”
“You have spent 1 hour on this. We are trying to understand how, in administrative law, you can question the decision of the statutory authority because of an infirmity in the decision-making of the advisory body?”, asked Justice Khanvilkar.
Justice Maheshwari added, “Mr. Shyam Diwan, his associate and now you, have all made this argument. We are still wondering if it has a bearing on the final decision”
“The CVC has not added any new material which the statutory body has not considered. If the CVC had not given its report for 1 year, the statutory authority would not have waited and would have proceeded to decide anyway!” pointed out Justice Khanvilkar.
Adv. Hegde began, “If there is a fault in the process at the lowest stage, then the final decision, whether right or wrong.”
“That would depend on the gravity of the fault. If the CVC had additional material and had not placed it on record or it was not considered by the statutory authority that could have been the basis of questioning the final decision”, said Justice Khanvilkar.