The Delhi High Court on Monday decided to allow the Central Vista project work to continue during the coronavirus outbreak, Bar and Bench reported.
A bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh said Central Vista was an “essential project of national importance”. “Public is vitally interested in the project,” the court added.
The court claimed that the public interest litigation to stop the project was “motivated” and fined the petitioners Rs 1 lakh.
“They have to complete the construction before November 2021,” the court said, according to Bar and Bench. “Time is of essence. Once workers are staying at site and all facilities are provided and Covid-19 behaviour are adhered to, no reason to stop the project. This is not a genuine PIL.”
The Central Vista project aims to redevelop a stretch at the heart of Lutyens Delhi, built in the 1930s. Of the Rs 20,000-crore sanctioned for the project, Rs 971 crore will be spent on a new Parliament building, and Rs 13,450 crore on new residences for the prime minister and the vice president.
On May 17, the judges had reserved their verdict after hearing both sides for more than three hours. A joint petition was filed by Anya Malhotra, who works as a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary filmmaker. They argued that the Central Vista project was not an essential activity and can be put on hold in light of the pandemic.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehra, representing the Centre, had called the petition a “facade” and a “disguise” to stall the project, which they always wanted to stop. But, the petitioners told the court they were only interested in the safety of workers at the site and citizens living in the area.
Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Private Limited, one of India’s largest construction firms which has been awarded the tender for the project, said the plea lacks bonafide and the company was taking care of its workers.
The counsel for the petitioners had likened the project to Auschwitz death camp during World War II.
The Modi government had claimed that it was maintaining Covid-19 protocol at the site, which included masking up, sanitisation and thermal screening, and that it had arranged for testing, medical aid and isolation in the event someone fell ill. It also claimed that contractors had provided health insurance to their workers.
However, Scroll.in found that three workers at the construction site have tested positive for the infection. Many also complained of cramped living conditions – inside tents, tin sheds, metal containers – that had made physical distancing impossible. The supervisor, who oversaw around 30 workers engaged in road construction work on the 3.2-km stretch between Rajpath and Rashtrapati Bhawan, also said that neither he nor the other workers had been insured by the company.
Across Delhi, most construction projects were put on hold since the lockdown rules allowed only projects with workers staying on the site to operate. But an exception had been made for the Central Vista project, which was declared an “essential service”, with permissions to bring workers on buses. On Saturday, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority had allowed construction activities to resume with certain protocols in place.