New Delhi, August 25: The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the Central Vista project, which involves building a new Parliament and integrating all Central government offices into one complex, being developed by the Central government.

The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna asked the petitioners to address them first on the challenge with regard to change of land use, Hindustan Times reported. The lead petitioner, Rajeev Suri, represented by advocate Shikhil Suri, submitted to the court that the land use of the Central Vista area – which comprises Parliament, heritage buildings, green area and recreational spaces – could not be changed by the government. According to him, this was done in haste and in an illegal manner as the March 20 notification approving change of land use could not be issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

On a lighter note, the bench observed that when the Supreme Court had to be expanded, the land where Appu Ghar existed was taken over for development of the court’s additional complex. The bench remarked, “The recreational space at Pragati Maidan was converted into the extended complex of Supreme Court. That aspect (change of land use) nobody has challenged fortunately.”

Suri informed the court that the alteration carried out by the DDA was shown as modification to the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 but in essence it altered the very character of the master plan. He further submitted to the court that the National Capital Region plan envisaged decentralisation and by this logic too, the Centre’s decision to integrate all 51 Central government offices in the heart of the city could not be sustained.

“The idea behind the project is to have an integrated office complex instead of having it dispersed. Does the layout plan or building bye-laws permit such classification where one class of activity can be integrated at a common place,” the bench asked Suri.

Further, the Court wished to know if the DDA should be faulted on the change of land use or the extent of this change in land use. The Court pointed out that though the notification of change of land use was issued by the DDA in exercise of its power under Section 11A of Delhi Development Act, such power can even be derived from other sections of the same Act. The hearing will continue on Wednesday.

The Central Vista project envisages a new Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, common Central Secretariat housing 51 Ministries in 10 buildings. At present, these offices are housed in 47 buildings spread over different locations. An underground shuttle of 3 kilometre length is also being planned for providing connectivity with nearest metro stations of Udyog Bhawan and Central Secretariat stations.

The proposed Lok Sabha chamber is expected to accommodate 876 seats and the Rajya Sabha chamber 400 seats. At present, the Central Hall has 440 seats and during the joint session of Parliament, temporary seats have to be arranged in the aisle. The new complex will provide for 1224 seats in the Central Hall, equipped with state-of-the-art technology and seamless movement between the two Houses.

An affidavit filed by the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the project proponent in the present petitions, has pegged the project cost at Rs 20,000 crore to be paid over six years.

On the green front too, the Centre has claimed that 9.5 acres green space to be utilised for the project will be compensated by providing patches of 1.88 acre green area in three pockets, in Zone D of Central Vista and 3.9 acres green space in Zone C.

Besides Rajeev Suri, other petitioners have also approached the apex court faulting the project on various grounds – manner of conducting public hearing, issue of public notice, grant of environmental impact assessment, clearance of project plan by Central Vista Committee, and unplanned destruction of heritage buildings in Central Vista as part of the project plan. The bench, while issuing notices on these petitions, indicated in March any steps taken with regard to the project will be subject to the final outcome of the proceedings in the Supreme Court.

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