New Delhi, July 30: The Supreme Court on Wednesday expanded the scope of its hearing in the challenge to the Central Vista redevelopment project and will now also examine the validity of the June 17 environmental clearance (EC) given to it. 

This will be in addition to the issue surrounding the legality of the change in land use which is already under the consideration of the top court through two petitions pending before it.

The court decided this after a former IAS officer and two environmentalists sought intervention in the matter and sought a recall of the apex court’s June 21 order which said that any petition or proceeding concerning the Central Vista project will have to be heard by the Supreme Court, Hindustan Times reported.

The interveners, former secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests, Meena Gupta, and environmentalists Pradip Krishen and Ashish Kothari in their intervention application filed through advocate Anshuman Srivastava on July 7, pointed out that the project involves other issues like grant of environmental clearance which can be challenged before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), but that the top court’s earlier order posed a hindrance to take recourse to other legal remedies.

A three-judge bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar then asked the interveners to file a fresh petition before the apex court challenging the EC for the project on June 17.

The Central Vista houses iconic buildings like the Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, the North and South Block buildings, which house important ministries, other buildings around Rajpath, and India Gate. The union government plans to redevelop the Central Vista by constructing a new Parliament house, a new residential complex that will house the Prime Minister and the Vice President besides several new office buildings.

The petitions already pending before the SC challenge a notification issued by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on December 21, 2019 regarding changes in land use for the redevelopment.

One of the petitioners in that case, Rajeev Suri has challenged the alterations envisaged by the central government on the ground that it involves changes to land use and standards of population density and that the DDA is not vested with the requisite power to bring about such changes. He submitted that the power, if at all, for bringing about such changes lies with the central government. Another petitioner, Lt. Colonel (Retd. ) Anuj Srivastava, challenged the public hearings held to raise objections to the exercise, arguing that the hearings were a mere formality .

“This is a huge project involving many clearances. Other legal remedies available should not be put in one bucket due to this case,” senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing for the interveners, said on Wednesday.

The court, however, suggested that interveners should withdraw their application and file a fresh petition before the Supreme Court challenging the EC. Divan and advocate Shikhil Suri and senior counsel Sanjay Hegde who were appearing for the two petitioners agreed to the proposal.

“In deference to the observations made by the Court, Mr. Shyam Divan submits that he would commend to the applicant(s) to file a substantive writ petition challenging the environmental clearance dated June 17 by way of writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution (before the Supreme Court)… As assured by Mr. Shyam Divan, learned senior counsel, the substantive writ petition will be filed within one week from today,” the court recorded in its order.

The case will be heard again in the third week of August.

The central government has maintained that the redevelopment is in conformity with the existing laws and will not harm any heritage buildings. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on Wednesday, said the proposed new buildings belong to the nation and public and disapproved the language used by petitioners while making arguments.

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