Delhi HC reserves judgement on plea to suspend Central Vista project amid Covid-19 surge

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The Delhi High Court Monday reserved its judgment in a petition seeking a stay on the ongoing construction at Central Vista Avenue amid the Covid pandemic, after a heated hearing in which a reference was made to Auschwitz and the project was termed the “central fortress of death”.

While the Centre submitted that the PIL was a facade to “satisfy some kind of a vanity in mind of certain individuals”, the petitioners argued that the government was shooting the messenger and not bothering about the message regarding public health.

The petition filed by Anya Malhotra, a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, historian and documentary filmmaker, stated that they are concerned by the “super spreading potential and threat” posed by the continuing construction at the project site and the plight of the workers who are being exposed to the infection on a daily basis. The Centre, in a written reply, stated the petition deserves to be dismissed with “exemplary costs” on the ground “that it is an abuse of the process of law”.

The division bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh on Monday heard arguments in the case and reserved the verdict. Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra represented the petitioners. While the Centre was represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Private Limited was represented by Senior Advocate Maninder Singh.

Luthra submitted the authorities created an on-site “infrastructure” for workers overnight only after the petitioners approached the court and said there has been no answer why the construction of Central Vista Avenue has been declared an “essential service”. Luthra argued that the Centre “chose to attack the messenger for getting what the message is, and the message is of health, lives and safety of everybody”, and that there is nothing sacrosanct about the timeline fixed for the project completion.

“When we came to your lordships, we were afraid their dereliction was going to lead to an Auschwitz on the gardens of Central Delhi, on the gardens of India Gate,” Luthra argued, adding that they are in no manner seeking to overreach the Supreme Court judgment permitting the Central Vista and the prayer was limited to construction during the peak phase of pandemic.

SG Mehta submitted that the project has had its “own share of critics” whose ultimate purpose was “we don’t like the project, we will challenge it and we will stop it”, and described the PIL as a “second limb” of the challenges laid to the Central Vista project earlier. Mehta also objected to Luthra’s mention of Auschwitz in context of the construction of Central Vista Avenue.

“This construction is going on since long but there was nothing which was available for those who somehow did not like the project to come before the court in disguise,” argued Mehta.

“This is a facade of a PIL which is created to disguise something which they always wanted to stop under one pretext or another,” he said.

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