Central Vista project: Delhi High Court reserves order

The Delhi High Court on Monday reserved its judgment on the plea seeking a stop to the Central Vista construction, considering the current Covid pandemic situation and also claiming that this was not an “essential” service as declared by the Central government.

The plea was heard today by the bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh.

Beginning arguments, Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra said: “When the plea was moved, concerns were raised about the health and safety of the workers at the site and of the people in Delhi.”

He referred to data on Covid positivity rate and deaths at the time when he court was moved, on May 4. “Is it too much for citizens to see misery and death to come to a constitutional court and seek protection for life?”

Luthra reiterated: “Right to health is a fundamental right.” He referred to Pandit Parmanand Katara’s case. Thereafter, a photograph was screen-shared.

Luthra: “Please see… There is no bed, there is no bedding, there is nobody. You will see empty tents on April 24. And they expect your lordships to believe this? Contrast this with what R4 says.”

Reading from the respondent’s submission, Luthra said: “…about 400 workers were engaged by SPCPL initially, that some workers expressed willingness to stay back, that accommodation was made for them and that transportation was arranged etc.”

Luthra said that was not the fact after April 30. “There was no ferrying of workers to the site.” He read the Union of India’s submission that “as of now there are about 280 workers on the site.”

Said Luthra: “As per your admission, from May 1 everything is in order… What happened between April 6 and 19, when you had no permission? From April 19 to 30? How many died? How many fell sick? How many were tested? What has been the impact on residents of the locality?”

Luthra referred to a Covid sample collected, where it has been highlighted that it was a “home-collection.” Luthra: “It is not an onsite collection… And they say with impunity that this is a certificate of a man tested on the site? Disturbing, to say the least.”

Luthra referred to claims that work started on May 1, and that all workers were insured. He then referred to a document that says that the insurance period was from May 5, 2021 to May 4, 2022.Luthra: “There was no insurance till May 5, 2021. And we are told that we have not done our homework?”

Luthra referred to a report that quoted workers as having stated that workers have been coming every day. “On May 7, workers are transported. There is sewerage, MTNL, police. There are not only going to be workers on the site, all these people have to go back and forth. What about their families? What about all of us living in Delhi? There are video reports.”

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta: “There is no argument that right to life is part of Article 21 of the Constitution. There have been numerous challenges to the project. This court and Supreme Court considered it. Supreme Court approved the project after it was vociferously argued for a number of days. This construction has been going on since long. But there was nothing available for those who did not like project to come before the court in disguise.”

“The limited restriction on construction comes on April 19, 2021, but it was only with on construction where onsite workers not residing,” Mehta said.

“This is a facade of PIL to disguise something they always wanted to stop under one pretext or the other. Any bonafide litigant who had health interest of workers in mind would have withdrawn this petition.”

Mehta added: “The photographs will certify that petitioner has resorted to suppression of facts. There is medical facility at the site and workers will have access to such medical facility which will otherwise not be available to such workers. Public interest is very selective in this case. They don’t care about other workmen 2 or 3 km away.” He referred to how the petitioner has not objected to certain other projects.

“It is unusual for a public spirited citizen to challenge by way of SLP an order of one week adjournment (by Delhi High Court),” Mehta said. “They don’t care about other workmen who are employed in other projects. Everyone has right to criticize and be venomous but court cannot be platform to use terms like Auschwitz. It was a concentration camp in Germany and such expressions are being used on this august platform. You may not express your opinion, but please do not come to court to stall such projects. This is an abuse of court’s jurisdiction.”

Senior Counsel Maninder Singh, on behalf of builder, Shapoorji Pallonji, said: “This is not a bonafide petition. The petitioners are conscious of the Supreme Court judgement and are trying to override it though they try to appear goody goody and say they are not. Their petition is based on personal knowledge or newspaper reports. A document relied upon has not been filed.”

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He added: “They are sensationalizing by saying ‘this (Central Vista) has become corona hub and people are dying.’ Once the petitioner came to know the workers are staying on site and not being transported, they would have withdrawn the petition, but they have not. These two petitioners are not to decide when the work is to be completed. They can’t say work can be completed by December 30. We must overcome this jolt which is given by pandemic. We will celebrate Republic Day. My learned friend ridiculed word celebration. We can’t make a mockery of our celebration. Half of Rajpath is dug up. If water is allowed to fill up during rainy season the areas adjacent areas will fall into pits. We can’t delay it if we want to celebrate Republic Day parade.”
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