The Supreme Court on Friday refused to interfere with the Central Vista project as the case was already in front of the Delhi High Court, Bar and Bench reported. However, the Supreme Court permitted the petitioners to seek an urgent hearing from the Delhi High Court.

The plea wanted the court to pass directions to halt the construction activity that is on amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, which has struck the national Capital hard. The petitioners had initially approached the Delhi High Court but earlier this week, it adjourned the case for May 17 without hearing it.

The project, an initiative of the Narendra Modi government, 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.

“Since the matter is pending before High Court and appeal is against order of adjournment, we are not inclined to enter into the merits of the case,” a bench of Justices Vineet Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari said. “In the given circumstance, we request Shri Luthra [petitioners’ counsel] or any other counsel to make request before the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court on Monday to take up the matter as urgently as possible. We hope and trust that High Court shall consider the prayer for early hearing.”

“We are facing a humanitarian health crisis” Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, the petitioners’ counsel, said, according to Bar and Bench. “If this project is deferred by 4 to 6 weeks nothing will happen. We suspended IPL. We have a situation where spread of Covid is unprecedented.”

The Centre opposed the plea and claimed that the petitioners’ Special Leave Petition against an adjournment raised serious questions.

Referring to the Delhi High Court’s adjournment, the petitioners told the Supreme Court:

“The very purpose of the petition is to seek a direction to the Respondents to forthwith, stop back and forth movement of workers by buses from Sarai Kale Khan, Karol Bagh, Kirti Nagar and other areas around Delhi (where they reside with their families) to the site of the construction activity at the ‘Central Vista Avenue Redevelopment Project’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Project’) during the subsistence of this peak phase of the pandemic in New Delhi, when oxygen is in short supply and the healthcare system is in total collapse.”

— The plea

Luthra added: “I really don’t understand how construction can be an essential activity when it puts lives of workers in danger and put more pressure on health care system.”

The petition added that there was no logic for the Central Vista Project being designated an essential service, especially just for the sake of a contractual obligation.

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.

“In the current dismal scenario, this Project has no feature of ‘essentiality’ for and/or of ‘service’ to the public at large,” the petition said, according to Bar and Bench. “In the absence of provision of on-site accommodation in this project, the impugned acts are totally contrary to and in gross violation of the orders issued in the public interest by the Delhi Disaster Management Authority.”

The petition in the Delhi High Court had said that the construction work has the potential to become a super spreader of the coronavirus and also 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.

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As Covid-19 devastates Delhi, Central Vista project declared an essential service, work continues

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 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, while adjourning the Central Vista case till May 17, the High Court had said that it wanted to study the Supreme Court’s verdict on the matter before issuing notices. 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.