New Delhi: The new Central Vista project is not a wastage of money but will save public funds worth Rs 1,000 crore that the administration has been spending annually on rent expenditure, the central government told the Supreme Court Tuesday.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also defended the redevelopment of the Parliament building, saying the 100-year-old structure was showing signs of distress and faced safety issues, something that has been voiced by its members and speakers too.
Since the members had indicated inadequacies with the present structure, Mehta added, there was no need for a separate independent study to decide if a new Parliament was required, as has been demanded by those challenging the project.
The solicitor general made his submission before a bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, in response to allegations that there was illegal change in land use for the project.
The top court was hearing two petitions challenging the redevelopment project that involves construction of a new Parliament House and 10 administrative buildings for all government ministries. It also includes converting the existing North and South blocks into museums. The project also proposes development of the Central Vista that connects Rajpath to the India Gate.
While issuing notices on the petition, the top court had refused to stay the project, but made it clear that its validity will be subject to the outcome of the petitions before it.
‘Heritage buildings will be conserved, not demolished’
According to the government, there is a shortfall of about 0.38 million square meters in office space. With the Central Vista project, this space crunch shall be taken care of since the plan envisages a common secretariat for 51 ministries.
The Parliament project, Mehta said, faces fire safety and space issues, and is showing signs of distress, necessitating the construction of a modern building.
Mehta also assured the bench that existing heritage buildings shall not be demolished but conserved. “The present Parliament will be there as it is. The ceremonies will be held in the central hall. Other rooms will be converted into MP chambers and offices for staff,” he told the bench.
On the construction of a new Parliament building, he said, it has to be at Central Vista and cannot be built in “Gurgaon (Gurugram), Panipat or Noida”.
In response to the petitioners’ claim that no expert advice was sought for this project, Mehta said, “If I feel that the house I am living in is not enough, I do not need to invite an expert to determine that.”
He also said that both Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha remain packed when joint sessions are held, forcing members to sit on plastic chairs. Mehta highlighted security concerns too, pointing at the 2001 Parliament attack. The building is also not earthquake-proof, he added.
‘Government welcomes SC scrutiny, but there should be leeway’
Mehta also countered arguments that no “design competition” was held before finalising the plan. He informed that there was a “concept competition”, since the buildings proposed are functional and not ornamental.
“A design competition is held for projects like war memorials, India Gate etc. that are monuments and do not serve functional purpose,” he said. The solicitor general added that he would make elaborate arguments on this issue later.
Mehta welcomed the Supreme Court’s scrutiny of the project but said “considering the history of the place where the redevelopment is happening” the government should be allowed some leeway.
“Whether there should be a new Parliament or not is a policy decision, which the government is empowered to take. Unless it is utterly arbitrary and atrocious, it is something which the government can decide,” he told the bench.
He also dismissed the petitioners’ argument that there was “non-application of mind” while procuring statutory approvals. Mehta will continue with his arguments Wednesday (4 November) as the hearing remained inconclusive Tuesday.