November 29, 2021

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Central Vista project: SC dismisses plea against change in land use

Central Vista Avenue, DelhiCentral Vista Avenue, Delhi“How is it illegal? What are the malafides?” the bench asked petitioner Rajeev Suri’s counsel.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition challenging the proposed change in land use – from bus terminal and neighbourhood park to house the new official residences of the Vice-President and the Prime Minister – for the ambitious Central Vista Project, saying it’s a matter of policy and the courts can’t interfere unless some malafide is shown in the decision.

A Bench led by Justice A M Khanwilkar wondered if suggestions from common people can be invited to the location of the Vice President’s house as it agreed with the Centre’s contention that it is a policy decision.
“How is it illegal? What are the malafides?” the bench asked petitioner Rajeev Suri’s counsel.

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“It is not the case of the petitioner that the authorities have no power to introduce such change. It is the argument of the petitioner that since in the past it was a recreational area, it should have been retained like that. This cannot be the scope of judicial review,” the judges said while terming it to be the prerogative of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) concerned.

“Show us one judgment which says that a plot once described as a recreational area cannot be changed at all? It is a matter of policy. Where else can be the residence of President, Vice President be located?” the court said, adding “everything can be criticized but the criticism should be constructive.

It also refused to direct the authorities to explore alternate sites so that the green areas can be protected.
The Centre has brought on record that they will increase the green area overall, it noted while refusing to entertain the petition.

The government defended its October 28, 2020 notification for change in land use by saying that the area in question was being used for government offices for 90 years and loss of greenery will be compensated. It maintained that the DDA took a holistic view and approved the change of land use in the Central Vista Project without compromising with the green area, built heritage, transport infrastructure and for better utilisation of the spaces.

The petition filed by social activist Rajeev Suri questioned the validity of a notification issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs because allowing a change in land use would deprive Delhi residents of a vast chunk of highly treasured open and green space in the Central Vista area available for social and recreational activity.

While the Supreme Court in January gave nod to the proposed project, the revamp, which was announced in September last year, envisages a new triangular Parliament building, with seating capacity for 900 to 1,200 MPs, that is targeted to be constructed by August 2022 when the country will be celebrating its 75th Independence Day. The government plans to conserve the existing Parliament building, claiming it to be an archaeological asset of the country. The construction is expected to be completed by 2022 at an estimated cost of around Rs 1,000 crore.

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