The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay the Delhi High Court order allowing the Central Vista project work in the national Capital to continue amid the coronavirus crisis, reported Bar and Bench. The top court also refused to interfere with the Rs 1 lakh cost imposed on the petitioners.

The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose observed that the project activities were in compliance with all Covid-19 protocols.

“Your concern was the project is non-compliant,” said Justice Khanwilkar. “But when there is a finding that it is compliant then how is the petition being pursued?”

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for petitioners Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi, said that the activities were non-compliant from April 19 to April 30 when the plea was filed. Later, they complied with the conditions, said Luthra.

The Supreme Court agreed with the High Court’s view that the petitioners had “selectively” challenged one project. The top court asked if the petitioners had done any research on similar construction works or were they singling out the Central Vista project.

“Was honest research conducted about the kinds of construction work that were going on,” asked Justice Maheshwari. “Is that reflected in your petition? As a PIL petitioner, did you research on how many projects were going on and only one project is picked up?”

The petitioners’ counsel said research was done and referred to the annexures in the plea. “We had challenged the permission obtained for Central Vista,” he said. “We also placed on record the DDMA [Delhi Disaster Management Authority] order which permitted the on-site construction. We placed on record the permission letter from CPWD [Central Public Works Department]...movement passes issued were also placed stating it should be allowed as its an essential service. We stated that its not an essential service.”

The Supreme Court said the petitioners should not have pursued the public interest litigation before the High Court further. “Genuine PILs have done wonders, but questionable PILs have caused problems,” said the court, according to Hindustan Times. “PILs have their own sanctity.”

The Central Vista project

On May 31, the Delhi 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.

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.