New Delhi: The Supreme Court Tuesday cleared the Narendra Modi government’s Central Vista redevelopment plan that includes the construction of a new Parliament complex.
In episode 655 of Cut The Clutter, ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta explained that while most of the buildings in the initial or original Lutyens’ zone will remain, the bhawans that house ministries will be demolished.
“As governments expanded, more offices have come in, more ministers have come in, more and more partitions have been built, there is a shortage of everything… it is quite a messy place. And it needs modernisation. That’s being done. But this was challenged by several people on different grounds,” Gupta said.
He explained what the Central Vista Redevelopment Project is, why it is being challenged, what urban renewal is and what judicial activism means in the wake of the apex court judgment.
The project, the problems & the judgment
While the North Block, South Block and the Parliament building will not be demolished, they will cease to be functional offices and be turned into museums.
Parliament will shift to a new building — a triangular, four-storey structure with a seating capacity of 1,224. The Prime Minister’s Office, defence ministry, external affairs ministry and finance ministry, among others, will also be shifted to a new “symmetrical, interconnected” complex of towers that will be built in the stead of the offices.
Highlighting the issues raised around the project, Gupta said according to activists this has been too hasty, not enough public debate has taken place and data about the project that is significant in terms of heritage has not been made public.
Moreover, this has also been “challenged on the grounds that this is not the time to put resources into something like this” and the clearances from the expert appraisal committee on environmental grounds was also taken for granted.
So, it is this alleged arbitrariness of the process that led to it being challenged, he said.
The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court that presided over the judgment included Justices Ajay Manikrao Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjeev Khanna.
“Sanjeev Khanna had dissented but Khanwilkar, Maheshwari said in the judgment that it is not for us to go into the details and the wisdom of spending this money. But if you say that the master plan of Delhi has been violated… then remember the Master Plan itself calls for optimal use of public land,” Gupta said, outlining the judgment.
Justice Sanjeev Khanna dissented on three grounds — inadequate public participation, prior approval of the heritage committee not taken, and expert appraisal committee permission was taken for granted.
On urban renewal
Gupta argued, “Our cities need renewal, the entire subcontinent has among the worst cities in the world…you can have a gated colony or gated street. But beyond that our cities lack character, they lack quality of life.”
Redevelopment projects, he justified, have always been viewed suspiciously, the case in point being the Amravati project that was finally waylaid.
But then there are projects that have come up in Mumbai, Varanasi and Delhi that aim to redevelop the inner city. Gupta said these projects serve as an impetus for other inner city development projects around heritage areas.
“The fact is that the Government of India needs better offices, more efficient offices, safer offices for fire, safer offices for surveillance,” he said.
He, however, contended that “it is true that Narendra Modi and his system is used to gigantism bordering on megalomania”. But, it is a different debate whether India needs to spend that money right now.
On the postlude
In the postlude to their judgment, Justices Maheshwari and Khanwilkar had written that the petitioners called upon the judiciary to “venture into territories that are way beyond the contemplated powers of a Constitutional Court”.
They said the route of public/social interest litigation is increasingly being invoked to call upon the court to examine concerns of policy.
Why did you take up this case in the first place, was Gupta’s reaction to the postlude.
He, however, highlighted another part from the postlude in which the judges said the constitutionally envisaged system of checks and balances has been completely misconstrued and misapplied in this case.
“If these lessons have been applied then a lot of the things our courts have wasted time on they would have saved the time… from cricket to air quality to cracker ban to dance bar to coastal road in Bombay (Mumbai),” he said.
He added, “The fact is that in this case the court is giving a sermon to itself, I would say that it is a good sermon and I would hope that more judges listen to it and follow it now.”
Watch the latest CTC episode here: