Delhi HC reserves order after hard hitting arguments to stall Central Vista project
New Delhi, May 18: The Centre on Monday told the Delhi High Court that the petition seeking stoppage of work on the Central Vista is an attempt to halt the project with oblique motives.
The petitioner on the other hand said that the Centre was trying to shoot the messenger instead of focusing on the message of health. The petitioner said that the project is a central fortress of death.
The Bench has reserved orders on the matter.
The petitioners on the other hand contended they were only interested in the safety of the workers at the site and the citizens lives and compared the project to "Auschwitz", a German concentration camp during World War-II.
Hard hitting arguments against the maintainability of the plea and the continuation of the project were made during the over three hour long hearing before a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh which reserved its judgement in the matter.
Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt Ltd, which has been awarded the tender for the project, also opposed the PIL, saying it lacks bona fide and the company was taking care of its workforce.
Opposing the claims of the petitioners, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the plea was a "facade", a "disguise" in the form of a PIL to stall the project which they always wanted to stop.
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, appearing for the petitioners, told the court that his clients were only delivering a message of health and safety for the people of Delhi and if the government cannot see it, then it was a "sorry reflection" of their concerns for the lives of the citizens.
Referring to the ongoing project work as not Central Vista, rather "central fortress of death" and comparing it to "Auschwitz", Luthra contended that the Centre''s submissions with regard to availability of medical facilities, testing centre, etc on site were all falsehoods.
He said that only empty tents have been set up at the place and there were no beds or bedding for workers to stay or sleep there.
Mehta was displeased with the project being referred to as Auschwitz saying one can criticise and be venomous about it, but such terms should not be used in court.
Luthra also contended that while the Centre claims some workers stayed back willingly to work on the project, no proof of their willingness has been shown.
He also said that if any facilities have been created at the site, it was for the reason that the high court agreed to hear the matter.
Countering the claims of the petitioners, the Solicitor General said one of the petitioners has been opposed to the project long before it got the go ahead from the Supreme Court in January this year.
He said the petitioners were not concerned for the health and safety of workers at the other constructions going on in the city.
"Public interest is very selective (in the instant case) with regard to health of workmen," he added and urged the court to dismiss the plea.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for Shapoorji Pallonji, told the court that there was no law under which he has to place on record a worker''s willingness to work.
He said the petitioners cannot decide what was the safe time line for completing the project and the company had to finish it by November so that the Republic Day parade can be held on the Rajpath.
He further said that half of Rajpath has been dug up and if the work is stalled then when the monsoon comes, the pits there would fill up with water which could lead to collapse of adjacent areas and also creation of a breeding ground for vector-borne diseases.
The court was hearing the plea by Anya Malhotra, who works as a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary film maker, who have contended that the project was not an essential activity and therefore, it can be put on hold for now during the pandemic.
The project entails construction activity on Rajpath and the surrounding lawns from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhawan, said the petition, filed through advocates Gautam Khazanchi and Pradyuman Kaistha.
The project envisages constructing a new Parliament House, a new residential complex that will house the Prime Minister and the Vice-President, as well as several new office buildings and a Central Secretariat to accommodate Ministry offices.
With PTI Inputs