VISTA project of the Central Government - Is it required?

VISTA project of the Central Government - Is it required?

In 2019, the Government of India launched the Central Vista Redevelopment Project, for short, “Vista Project” and ever since then it is in controversy. Even during the controversy, project work continued in as much as ground breaking ceremony was held in 2020 and foundation stone was laid on 10th Dec., 2020. In the meantime, the Central Government suffered an adverse order from a Single Judge of Delhi High Court but later the said order was stayed by a Division Bench of the  same Court. Matter was carried to Apex Court which stayed the project but permitted to carry out the planned works. Finally by a 2:1 judgment delivered on 05th Jan., 2021, the Supreme Court cleared the project. The  246 page judgment in the case of Rajeev Sur vs. DDA & Others is reported in 2021 SCC On Line SC 7. The majority judgment of Justices A.M.Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari is spread over   paragraphs 1 to 575 from pages 1 to 164 while the minority judgment of J Sanjiv Khanna is in paragraphs  576 to 722 in pages 164 to 233. It is relevant to notice at this stage that though Justice Khanna proceeded to quash the notification, he has not left the matter at that but has remitted it to hear objections to the project on the question of change of land use and then to issue fresh notification.

Let me now examine what the Vista Project is.

Though the Vista Project became a topic of public discussion in 2019 when the present Government of PM Narendra Modiji took steps to implement the project, it is infact had its birth several decades back that too not once but twice. It is thus clear that the two major political parties of the Country Congress and the BJP should have been unanimous that the present Parliament House, a 93 year old structure  requires a new building.

A: What then are the disputes that were first raised in Delhi HC and then before SC.

 1. WP No.1568 & 1575 /2020 before Delhi HC: Challenge to public notice dt.21.12.2019 re change of land use.

2. LPA 119/2020 before Delhi HC by UOI challenging conditional interim order passed in WP No.1568/2020. The Division Bench stayed Single Judge’s order.

3. SLP Diary No.8430/2020 before SC challenging the DB order of Delhi HC. By order dt.06.03.2020, SC disposed LPA 119/2020 pending before Del HC and transferred to itself WP No.1568 & 1575 /2020.

4. More petitions were thereafter filed before SC and all were clubbed.

Pr.107: A Committee consisting of major political parties was formed and the budgetary proposal as well as project was placed before the members of Parliament.

Pr.110: Approval of DUAC is a must for every project and here too its approval has been accorded vide proceedings in1545th meeting dt.01.07.2020. Other approvals will be obtained as and when required.

Pr.111: No heritage building will be damaged and per contra steps will be taken to increase their life.

Pr.114: Consultant cannot escalate the cost of construction.

Pr.116: Suggestion of the Petitioners to opt for alternative place cannot be examined by the judiciary.

Pr.117: Money held in public trust can be utilized for public trust itself.

Re Finding of Court on the issues raised

(1) Change in Land Use

Pr 246 to 295:@ Pr.293: On a comprehensive understanding of the plan, we are of the view that the proposed changes fully gel with the vision of the master plan including the zonal plan.

(2). Procedure before decision

Pr.295 to 350 @ Pr.350: In short, the petitioners have not been able to demonstrate any case of denial of natural justice. For, the 

prescribed procedure, both by statute and convention, seems to have substantially been followed. In fact, in circumstances when challenge is raised to a project of immense national importance which is not limited to any particular city or state or intended to give benefit to any private individual, impediments cannot be induced by reading in requirements which are not mandated by law. The principle of “Rule of Law” requires rule in accordance with the law as it is, and not in accordance with an individual's subjective understanding of law.

(3) Quasi Legislative Function

Pr.351 to 360 @ Pr.360: It is a modification which will provide direction to all future development of the subject plots. We have noted that there is a distinction between modifying the use of land in a given zone and demarcating fresh boundaries for various zones of land. The change of usage of Government land is of a general nature. It is certainly not a purely routine administrative work. That means that the function of change in land use has a quasi-legislative hue to it.

(4). Re. Post change in land use decision:

Pr.361 to 362 @ Pr.361:…. only the component of expansion/renovation of Parliament is a part of this lis. Thus, no other aspect of the Central Secretariat project and the remaining project arises for our consideration.

(5). CVC Clearance

Pr.363 to 379 @ Pr.379: Thus, the statement of minutes and preceding steps duly reflect that the committee ensured that all elements of the project are in order.

(6) Non Application of mind:

Pr.380 to 389 @ Pr.389: Therefore, the requirement of reasons in cases which do not demand it in an express manner is based on desirability and the same is advised to the extent possible without impinging upon the character of the decision-making body and needs of administrative efficiency.

(7) Legitimate Expectation

Pr.390 to 394 @ Pr.393: Legitimate expectation is a locus-based principle and it is not meant to assuage the expectations of those whose interests are unaffected by a decision.

(8) DUAC Appeal

Pr.395 to 408 @ Pr.407:  …. For, without a design before it, the Commission (DUAC) would be incapable of comprehending the compliance of a design with aesthetics of the region. 408. We recall and note that at the stage of tender for consultation services, the prospective bidders were called upon to submit their vision of the proposed project which goes on to show that no final design was in existence at that point 

of time. It was only after the consultant was selected that the design was finalised and the role of DUAC would not emerge before this crucial step.

(9) Arbitrariness in grant of approval

Pr.409 to 420 @ Pr.420: As per Conduct of Business Regulations, 1976, the Minutes of the meeting were ratified and confirmed in the next meeting of the Commission and no member has expressed any reservation regarding any aspect of the advice tendered by DUAC. The petitioners' challenge on this count, therefore, fails.

(10). Challenge in land use in the light of existence of heritage property.

Pr.421 to 444: Permission is not required at this stage  and is required before the commencement

(11). Environmental Clearance

Pr.445 to 516 @ Pr.516: We deem it fit to call upon the respondent MoHUA to consider issuing appropriate general directions so as to ensure that adequate use of smog guns during the construction of development projects and setting up smog towers is made a mandatory requirement, particularly involving government buildings, townships or other major private projects. Time has come to advance the intent behind improving air quality a mandatory feature for modern buildings……

(12) Selection Process

Pr.517 to 538 @ Pr.538: ….the consultancy fee was capped by the project proponent irrespective of the final cost of the project and thus, no apprehension of lack of economic design survives.

(13). Design Competition

Pr.539 to 543 @ Pr.542: … In any case, it is not for the Courts to decide which competition will be more appropriate, being a policy matter.

(14). Public Trust

Pr.544 to 556 @ Pr.556: ….The proposed project is in line with the standards of public trust and the petitioners have failed to point out any circumstance which would suggest otherwise.

(15) Information on Public Domain

Pr.557 to 560 @ Pr.560:…. Suffice it to observe that the argument of non-availability of stated technical information in public domain as pursued by the petitioners, will be of no consequence and certainly not germane to declare the final decision of the Central Government manifested vide notification dated 20.3.2020 as illegal.

(16) Denial of Petitioner’s statutory right before other forum

Pr.557 to 560: This Court never restrained Petitioners or others from availing remedy before statutory forum. However, when the matter is before SC through multiple petitions, this Court has a duty in national 

interest to resolve all issues. Further, the application to approach other forum was filed at fag end of the litigation. 

(17) Postlude

Pr.570 to 572 @ 570: Before we part, we feel constrained to note that in the present case, the petitioners enthusiastically called upon us to venture into territories that are way beyond the contemplated powers of a constitutional court. We are compelled to wonder if we, in the absence of a legal mandate, can dictate the government to desist from spending money on one project and instead use it for something else, or if we can ask the government to run their offices only from areas decided by this Court, or if we can question the wisdom of the government in focusing on a particular direction of development. We are equally compelled to wonder if we can jump to put a full stop on execution of policy matters in the first instance without a demonstration of irreparable loss or urgent necessity, or if we can guide the government on moral or ethical matters without any legal basis. In light of the settled law, we should be loath to venture into these areas. We need to say this because in recent past, the route of public/social interest litigation is being increasingly invoked to call upon the Court to examine pure concerns of policy and sorts of generalised grievances against the system. No doubt, the Courts are repositories of immense public trust and the fact that some public interest actions have generated commendable results is noteworthy, but it is equally important to realise that Courts operate within the boundaries defined by the Constitution. We cannot be called upon to govern. For, we have no wherewithal or prowess and expertise in that regard.

Conclusion: Pr.573

In conclusion, we declare and direct as follows: 

(i) We hold that there is no infirmity in the grant of: 

(a) “No Objection” by the Central Vista Committee (CVC); 

(b) “Approval” by the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) as per the DUAC Act, 1973; and 

(c) “Prior approval” by the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) under clause 1.12 of the Building Byelaws for Delhi, 2016. 

(ii) We further hold that the exercise of power by the Central Government under Section 11A(2) of the DDA Act, 1957 is just and proper and thus the modifications regarding change in land use of plot Nos. 2 to 8 in the Master Plan of Delhi, 2021/Zonal Development Plan for Zone-D and Zone-C vide impugned notification dated 20.3.2020 stands confirmed. 

(iii) The recommendation of Environmental Clearance (EC) by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and grant thereof by MoEF is just, proper and in accordance with law including the 2006 Notification. We uphold the same along with appropriate directions therein to ensure that the highlighted mitigating measures are followed by the project proponent in their letter and spirit. 

(iv) The project proponent may set up smog tower(s) of adequate capacity, as being integral part of the new Parliament building project; and additionally, use smog guns at the construction site throughout the construction phase is in progress on the site. 

(v) We also call upon the respondent MoEF to consider issuing similar general directions regarding installation of adequate capacity of smog tower(s) as integral part in all future major development projects whilst granting development permissions, particularly in cities with bad track record of air quality - be it relating to Government buildings, townships or other private projects of similar scale and magnitude, including to use smog guns during the construction activity of the Project is in progress. (vi) The stage of prior permission under clause 1.3 of the Building Bye Laws of the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC), is the stage of actual development/redevelopment etc. work is to commence and not the incipient stage of planning and formalisation of the Project. Accordingly, the respondents shall obtain aforementioned prior permission of the designated Authority before actually starting any development/redevelopment work on the stated plots/structures/precincts governed by the heritage laws including on plot No. 118, if already not obtained. (vii) The selection/appointment of Consultant, in light of the limited examination warranted in this case, is held to be just and proper. 

In the light of authoritative pronouncement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, nothing more requires to be examined on the validity f the Vista Project as all of us are bound by the said decision having regard to art.141 of the Constitution of India. Still out of academic interest and curiosity, without showing an iota of disrespect to the decision of the Apex Court, I intend to examine the matter from two other angles not urged before the Court but only debated in social media.

B. Need for new building

(1)(a).Vista Project aims to redevelop 3.2 km stretch that lies at the heart of Lutyens Delhi built by the Britishers in 1930.

(b).    The project is estimated to cost Rs.20,000/- crores and will consist of a new parliament, residences of Prime Minister and Vice President  along with 10 building blocks that will accommodate all government ministries and departments. Out of Rs.20,000/- ear marked for the project, Rs.1,000/- crores will be used for constructing the new parliament

(c).    Foundation stone for the project was laid on 20th Dec., 2020 and the whole project is estimated to be completed by 2024 while the new parliament is slated to  be ready by December, 2022.

(d).    The project is being executed by Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Tata projects have won the bid to construct new parliament for Rs.861.90 crores. It beat L&T’s bid of Rs.865 crores.

(2).    Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very keen to proceed with the project while former Congress Chief Sri.Rahul Gandhi is serious in opposing it and went to the extent of calling for his arrest for opposing the project. 

(3).    Vista Project is being opposed on two principle grounds not dealt with by the Supreme Court. They are that there is no need and that Country cannot afford this luxury when Covid has caused havoc.

(4).     I will consider each objections separately.

C. Re: No need for Vista Project.

 (1).    It is always the privilege of the opposition be it Congress or BJP to criticise any mega project of the ruling party and as such I am not surprised in Mr.Rahul Gandhiji criticising Vista Project. However what is relevant to notice is that the ball for the project was first rolled in 1990 by getting a study conducted which concluded in favour of the project  and again in 2010 when during the tenure of Dr.Man Mohan Singh as the Prime Minister,  the then Speaker Mrs.Meera Kumar  went one step further by constituting a committee.

(2).    Thus what was visualised first in 1990 and then again in 2010 by non BJP Governments is now being implemented by the BJP.

(3).    Reasons given for new Parliament is two fold. First is that it is a century old building and it cannot be safe to conduct parliamentary proceedings in such building endangering the safety of national leaders.(It is definitely so when the Hon’ble Members shout and thump the desks to register their presence or protest!). The second reason which I too endorse is that present combined  strength of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is 543+245= 788 and the Parliament house is not big enough to accommodate them. Added to that, Member strength of Lok Sabha will have to be increased as the present strength is based on 1977 Census and a member supposed to represent 10 lakh voters is now representing around 20 to 25 lakh voters in states like Bihar. In fact, former President Pranab Mukherjee had in December 2019 suggested that member strength of the Lok Sabha requires to be raised from 543 to 1000 so as to give adequate representation to all citizens. Thus a new Parliament to accommodate all the members is a necessity if not of today, at least of tomorrow and this position has continued since 1990.

D. Is it that urgent for the project in the light of Covid

(1). This is definitely a debatable point. But, tell me as to which Covid project has been side lined for want of money? If the Government has sufficient reserves to meet all Covid related expenses, then there is nothing wrong in taking up any other project. I for one feel that the country needs large number of beds to tackle Covid crisis but that has to be met only through temporary arrangements and I say so this for two reasons. First,  temporary structures will come fast and as such hospitals will become functional within few weeks if not days and the second is that if steps are now initiated for construction of permanent hospitals with concrete structures then by the time they are ready, Covid would have gone by and if such a good scenario were to happen then where will be the patients to fill up in those hospitals after few years? I am aware of a practical incident. A famous Eye Hospital run by an NGO in Bangalore was pressurised to establish its branch in Holenarsipur in Hassan district with tempting concessions from the Government. However, they have packed up the show after ten years. If the hospitals are not used then the surgical machinery will fail at the relevant time. People in Bangalore might have noticed that Metro Trains are run in Bangalore even now during lockdown period not to carry passengers but to keep its engines rust free. I am sure that if the Government had laid foundation for 100 permanent hospitals then this very opposition would have protested.

Thus I am of the view that Central Government should go ahead with Vista Project without affecting purchases of medicine for Corona virus and constructing temporary hospitals

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