The Centre on Tuesday opposed a plea before the Delhi High Court seeking to halt the construction activity of the Central Vista project, saying that it was just another attempt to stall the work, reported PTI. The Centre said that it has faced such attempts from the beginning on one pretext or another.
“The very fact that out of all these construction activities going on simultaneously for different projects by different agencies, the petitioner has chosen to be a public spirited citizen only with regard to one project speaks volumes about his intentions and motive behind filing the present petition,” the central government said in an affidavit.
A Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jasmeet Singh listed the matter for hearing on May 12 as the affidavit was not on record. The plea sought to suspend the construction work of the project in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
In its affidavit, the government said the Delhi Development Authority and the city’s Public Works Department are also engaged in construction works but the plea has overlooked it, reported Bar and Bench.
The fact that the petitioners were selective about their “public interest” should bar them from any relief, the affidavit said. The Centre claimed that the petition should be dismissed as it is motivated by some other factor in the garb of public interest.
The affidavit also told the High Court that the construction work is not related to the new Parliament building or offices. It said that the activity pertains to building public amenities such as parking spaces, paths, toilet blocks and underpasses and claimed that the petitioners were aware of this but chose to suppress the information.
The government also told the High Court that it has made full arrangements to ensure that the construction activity is carried out in compliance with the coronavirus guidelines.
It said a facility was set up at the construction site to accommodate the workers who wanted to continue with the work. “The facility provides for strict implementation of Covid protocol strictly and also adherence to Covid appropriate behaviour, such as sanitization, thermal screening, physical/social distancing and masking,” the affidavit said.
The government also said that the 400 workers engaged in the construction work were there before a curfew was imposed in Delhi, reported Live Law. It said that permission for transporting material and labour to the work site was granted between April 19 and April 30. It added that the government has set up a dedicated healthcare facility and the workers have proper access to medical care.
The Delhi High Court had on Monday agreed to hear the plea and asked the petitioners to file a fresh application on the matter. The decision came after the Supreme Court on May 7 refused to interfere with the Central Vista project as the case was already in front of the Delhi High Court but permitted the petitioners to seek an urgent hearing from the High Court.
Before that, the petitioners had first approached the Delhi High Court last week but it adjourned the case till May 17 without hearing it.
The petitioners have said that the construction work has the potential to become a super spreader of the coronavirus. They have 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.
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.
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.