In a plea to the Supreme Court, a petitioner has challenged the Delhi High Court’s decision to allow the Central Vista project work to continue despite the coronavirus pandemic, Bar and Bench reported on Wednesday.

On Monday, the High Court held that Central Vista was an “essential project of national importance”. It also claimed that the public interest litigation filed to stop the project was “motivated” and fined the petitioners Rs 1 lakh.

However, in his plea to the Supreme Court, appellant Pradeep Kumar Yadav, contended that the High Court’s decision to regard the project as “essential activity” was not justified amid the coronavirus crisis. The plea also objected to the High Court’s observation that the November 2021 deadline to complete the project was essential.

“Compared to the larger interest of protecting lives of people, sanctity of a date of completion of the project for construction can have no meaning, relevance or importance,” the plea stated.

It claimed that workers involved in the project were not staying at the construction site, as was mentioned in the High Court judgement.

“...Respondent Government and [construction firm] SPCPL [Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Private Limited] in their respective affidavit has clearly stated that the workers of the said project was staying at Sarai Kale Khan Camp which is not project site,” the plea said.

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.

The Narendra 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, 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 May 29, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority had allowed construction activities to resume with certain protocols in place.