A plea was filed before the Delhi High Court seeking to halt the construction of the Central Vista redevelopment project in view of the coronavirus situation, reported Bar and Bench on Tuesday. The plea said that the construction work has the potential to become a super spreader of the coronavirus.

The project, an initiative of the Narendra Modi government, is underway in the middle of a devastating second wave of pandemic, when most activities have been stopped.

It aims to redevelop a 3.2-km stretch called the Central Vista that lies at the heart of Lutyens Delhi built by the British in the 1930s. It involves tearing down and rebuilding several government buildings, including iconic landmarks, and constructing a new Parliament at a total cost of Rs 20,000 crore. The construction of the prime minister and vice president’s residences is likely to be over by 2022

The plea before the High Court questioned Delhi Deputy Commissioner of Police Eish Singhal’s decision to issue movement passes in the “essential services” category to vehicles engaged in the project.

Only construction projects that have workers staying on the site are permitted to operate in Delhi as per lockdown guidelines. However, an exception was made for the Central Vista project.

“Petitioners are questioning why or how the project constitutes an ‘essential service’, merely because some executive mandated contractual deadline has to be met,” the plea said. “Further, it is the petitioners’ respectful submission that in the current dismal scenario, this project has no feature of ‘essentiality’ for and/or of ‘service’ to the public at large.”

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The petition said that the “relentless, unmindful and reckless act” of working on the project is a threat to the lives of the Delhi residents and those involved in it. The petitioners claimed that the project violates the orders passed by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority.

The plea said that the central government should put all its focus on controlling the pandemic that has affected the national Capital. “Carrying on such construction activities will negate those efforts,” it said.

The health infrastructure in Delhi is under severe strain due to the alarming number of cases reported in the city. There is an acute shortage of medical supplies, especially oxygen. Beds are also scarce for Covid-19 patients who need urgent admission.

As per a Scroll.in investigation, the cost of 162 oxygen generation plants being built by the central government is Rs 201 crore. In contrast, the budget for the new Parliament building itself is nearly five times more at Rs 971 crore.

On Tuesday, the High Court adjourned the hearing in the case till May 17. A bench led by Chief Justice DN Patel said that it wants to study the Supreme Court’s verdict on the matter before issuing notices. Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Centre, said that he would file a response to the plea.

The Supreme Court had given a go-ahead to the initiative in January, rejecting petitions challenging the project for alleged violation of environmental and land-use rules.

Centre should focus on saving lives, says Priyanka Gandhi

Hitting out at the Centre, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that at a time when people are grappling with the shortage of oxygen and vaccines in the country, it would be better if the government deploys all resources to save lives instead of building a new Rs 13,000-crore house for the prime minister.

“Such expenses send a message to the public that the government’s priorities are in some other direction,” she tweeted.

On April 28, Vadra’s brother and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the Centre for declaring the construction work for the project as an “essential service”. “Central Vista – not essential, Central government with a vision – essential,” he tweeted.

On April 23, Gandhi tweeted pointing out that the Centre invited bids for a part of the project even as the country was faced shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and coronavirus vaccines and tests.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of the project on December 10. The Opposition had criticised the government for excessive spending amid the coronavirus crisis and the farmers’ agitation.