Central Vista project: Supreme Court junks plea challenging change in land use, says matter of policy decision
Advocate Rajeev Suri had challenged the change in land use of the plot from recreational area to residential
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea challenging the change in land use of a plot where the new official residence of the vice-president is proposed as part of the ambitious Central Vista project in Lutyens' Delhi.
“Everything can be criticised but it should be constructive criticism,” the apex court observed and said it was a policy matter and the authority concerned has offered sufficient explanation to justify the change in land use of the plot.
“We find no reason to examine the matter further and therefore put a quietus to the entire controversy by dismissing this petition,” a bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar said.
The bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and C T Ravikumar, was hearing a petition challenging the change in land use of plot number one from recreational area to residential.
As the petitioner's counsel argued that the change in land use of the plot is not in public interest and they are seeking to only protect the green and open area, the bench orally asked, Hereafter, recommendation will be taken from common citizens as to where the Vice President's residence should be?.
“Everything can be criticised. There is no difficulty about that but the criticism should be constructive criticism,” the bench said, adding, “How the vice-president's residence can be shifted elsewhere.”
It observed that policy makers have considered these aspects.
The Central Vista revamp, announced in September 2019 envisages a new triangular Parliament building, with a seating capacity for 900 to 1,200 MPs, that is to be constructed by August, 2022 when the country will celebrate its 75th Independence Day.
The common Central Secretariat is to be built by 2024 under the project that covers a 3-km stretch from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate in the national capital.
During the hearing, the counsel appearing for the petitioner said they are not on the location of the vice-president's residence but the change in land use is not in public interest as these are open and green areas.
It is not some private property which is being created there. It is for Vice-President's residence as per the affidavit, the bench observed, adding, In Vice-President's residence, there is bound to be green area around.
The counsel said the petitioner cannot have any objection as far as residence of Vice-President is concerned.
When he said that six acre of green area is being proposed to be taken over, the bench observed that it is a matter of policy.
“Unless you are alleging mala fide, how can we go into that issue. On what ground can we interfere. The judicial review will be in respect of what?” the bench said.
It said the affidavit filed by the authority give reasons as to why the change was necessitated and it also says that some other areas have been added to increase the greenery.
It is a fact that it was never used as recreational ground, the bench observed.
The apex court said even if it is assumed that the plot was used for recreational purpose in the past, is it not open to the authority to make changes which are essential for the holistic development of the area.
The petitioner's counsel said that in larger public interest, they are seeking to only protect the green and open area.
He said like salami slice, a smaller portion of land is taken and then the authority says it is compensating it.
The counsel argued that the affidavit filed by the authority is vague and no green area or open area is compensated in the Central Vista region.
“Is it a matter of arithmetic that if 10 metre area is taken, then 10 metre area has to be provided at other place,” the bench said, adding, “After having seen the affidavit, is it possible for you to say that it was done mischievously, with mala fide.”
The counsel said they are invoking the public trust doctrine.
“We are not impressed with this argument. If you have some better arguments, we will consider that,” the bench said.
At the fag end of hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the bench that the apex court had considered these aspects in the first round of litigation in the matter.
There has to be end to everything, he said.
The bench noted in its order that it is not the case of the petitioner that the authorities have no power to introduce such change.
The only argument is that in the past, since the plot was shown as recreational ground, it should have been retained as such and at least the commensurate area should have been provided elsewhere for that purpose, it noted.
In January this year, the apex court, by 2:1 majority, had held that the grant of environmental clearance and the notification for change in land use for construction of new Parliament building under the project was valid.
The top court's verdict had come on several pleas, including those against various permissions given to the project by authorities including the grant of environmental clearance and the nod to change of land use.
The top court had in June this year dismissed a separate plea challenging the Delhi High Court order which had rejected a petition seeking to halt Central Vista construction work in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, Sanjiv Khanna will pronounce the verdict on the batch of pleas which question several aspects, including the environmental clearance granted
The Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar said the allegations regarding change of land use is the "threshold issue"
The apex court was hearing a plea seeking directions to the Delhi HC to hear immediately the PIL against the Central Vista construction on the ground that it is not an essential activity