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What is the Central Vista Project? How did the Supreme Court clear it? What are its legal challenges?

On Tuesday, January 5, the apex court of India, represented by a Bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, gave its assent to the central vista project to be implemented. The 2-1 judgment was pronounced with Justice Khanna holding a separate judgment, and Justice Khanwilkar and Justice Maheshwari forming the majority in favour of the project. The project was announced by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs on September 13, 2019.

One of the main buildings in this area is the Parliament House, erstwhile Council House. The Parliament House draws its design inspiration from the Chausanth Yogini Temple located in Morena, Madhya Pradesh.

What is the central vista project?

The central vista project aims to renovate and redevelop a land in Lutyens’s Delhi spread across 86 acres. This land is inclusive of multiple landmark structures of the Indian government such as the Parliament House, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block and South Block. The project to redevelop the nation’s administrative heart is also referred to as “Prime Minister’s dream project”. The new structure, according to the released blueprint, is sought to be a triangular Parliament building with the capacity to host as many as 1,200 Members of Parliament or MPs.

What legal challenges did the project encounter?

In the month of April 2020, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court which challenged the Centre’s change-of-land-use notification released in the month of March during the same year with regard to the land under the Prime Minister’s dream project. The petition was filed by Rajeev Suri. He submitted that the order was against Article 21 which guaranteed the citizen’s Right to Life. This article is violated by depriving people of open and green spaces. Mr Suri, through his petition, also argued that the notification went against the Master Plan of Delhi 2021.

The notification by the centre also overrode another notice issued by the Delhi Development Authority way back in December 2019 that invited objections against the proposed changes in land use. The December notice was itself under challenge in the Supreme court at the time.

Thus, the supreme court heard the challenge on three main grounds which are as follows:

  1. Change of land use
  2. Violations of municipal law
  3. Violations of environmental law.

What was the conclusion of all this legal bustle?

During October and November 2020, when the supreme court was seeking after the final hearings, several top lawyers appeared in the case while the court’s judgment was reserved till November 5.

On December 10, the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Parliament building was organized in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone. We are expecting the building to be fully constructed by the month of August in 2022, perhaps near the 75th Independence Day celebrations that will rejoice the entire nation.

Initially, the Supreme Court kind of frowned on the planned Bhumi Pujan. However, later on, it had allowed the ceremony to go on once the centre assured the court that no further steps will be taken until the pending case was decided. By further steps, we mean any kind of construction or demolition work or felling of trees in the talked about area.

Why do people not want a new Parliament building?

The Central Vista project is one glaring example of a project that involves colossal public expenditure. The project is based on an out-dated office concept which is being pushed through despite massive public protest.

The project proposes to build a series of 10 storey-high government secretariats. These structures will be made along both sides of Rajpath and will be connected by an underground metro rail system. All these high-power projects call for the concentration of more than 70,000 workers within limited confines. All this heavy expenditure is going to dig a hole in the pockets of the government as well as the public in the face of the realities exposed by the current pandemic that has called for a complete re-evaluation of working and living conditions in India as well as in all other affected countries around the globe.

The present blueprint of the new Parliament House is an uncanny remembrance to the years earlier proposal by Herbert Baker. During the initial construction, Baker, the British architect, proposed a triangular plot a plan with three wings. This plan was later discarded and replaced by Lutyens’ proposal. Lutyens design included a circular (having an outer diameter of 174 metres), colosseum-like plan, on which the Parliament House is based. located within this circular plan, the three chambers were meant to house the Chamber of Princes, the Legislative Assembly, and the Council of State. These three wings have a 120-degree separation with intermediate courts constructed between them.

After India received its independence from the British rule, the Council House was renamed as Sansad Bhavan or the Parliament House. The three main wings or chambers mentioned above were also repurposed as the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha, and the Library while the Central Hall was occupied for the purpose of holding joint sittings.

Needless to say, the Sansad Bhawan (the Parliament House) is no less than a heritage site that has witnessed several historical moments such as B.R. Ambedkar’s Grammar of Anarchy speeches and Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’. The memories of intense debates and discussion during the drafting of the Indian constitution still remain engraved in the walls of the Central Hall which has seen several generations of distinguished parliamentarians come and go.

With all this taken into account, the current parliament building has multiple emotional and practical concerns attached with it which may not be that easy to reconstruct with the new proposed plan of the “Prime Minister’s Dream Project.” However, what will happen in the future is known to none. We don’t know whether the new parliament building will be constructed or not, but we definitely know that the current historical building will remain special for everybody for years and generations to come.

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