The Central Vista: A Project of National Importance or Central Fortress of Death
India has recently witnessed the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic where the health infrastructure collapsed badly owing to the death of lakhs of Indians due to shortage of oxygen, hospital beds and what not. To steal the show, the Indian Government has initiated the construction of its “Central Vista Project” which also involves demolishing and rebuilding several government buildings, including iconic landmarks, and constructing a new Parliament at a cost of ₹20,000 crores. Further, what added fuel to fire is that, all this to happening amidst pandemic when the third wave is expected to hit the country, this act put the cart before the horse.
On the 2nd of June 2021, the Supreme Court delineated to the Centre on vaccination policy that;
“our Constitution does not envisage courts to be silent spectators when constitutional rights of citizens are violated because of executive policy”.
Contradictory to this, on 31st of May, a bench comprising of Justice Jyoti Singh and Chief Justice DN Patel gave a damp squib by dismissing the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with a cost of Rs.1,00,000/- for entreating the transitory suspension of the ostentatious Central Vista Project. Here acquisition of timing is the bone of contention where thousands of people are in red, die every day, and battle with the deadly Coronavirus because lack of oxygen, medicine, and other medical equipment. The basic fundamental rights of citizens were denied like the right to food, right to health, right to live and die with dignity as enshrined under Article 21of the Constitution.
In the status quo of Anya Malhotra & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors Hon’ble Court while tagging the Project as an essential service reasoned that, “the whole Central Vista Project is an essential project of National importance, where the sovereign functions of Parliament are also to be conducted. Public is vitally interested in this project”. Veritably, the undemocratic or uninviting redevelopment of the existing Indian Parliament is a burning of the candle at both ends in the strain situation, where the country is battling with the pandemic, economic downturn, healthcare being crumbled, and a slew of social and political concerns ranging from joblessness to farmer agitation. The Court nod to keep the ball rolling of the Project amid the pandemic is a misplacement of priorities while examining the essence of time, the Court should halt the construction work until we could get over from the COVID-19.
In accordance with International Human Rights Law, it guarantees everyone to attain the highest standard of health and its obligation of government to prevent the threat of public health. It is also an integral provision under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which ensures the right to life and personal liberty, as well as the right to healthcare and clinical treatment, this concept, was established by the Court in the M.S. Chawla case. Whereas Article 21 read with Article 38, 42, 43, and 47 of the Constitution establishes the State’s commitment to ensure the effective realization of the right to health.
The petitioners in the status quo case rendering the construction as Central Fortress of Death referred to Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India, OHSA v. Union of India, and E. Sivakumar case, which asserted the obligation on the State for preservation of life and stated that;
“there can be no doubt that the protection of human life is of the paramount importance”.
With the surge in the controversies and criticism of the project by the citizens, the Centre gave it an elbow room above the lives of millions of Indians who have been battling between life and death due to this pandemic. The allocation of ₹20,000 crores fund to live in an ivory could be used for the betterment of the affected people. This project is also brought into the spotlight because of the environmental concerns associated with it and by the top leaders of the country.
Many civil society groups and environmental organizations have appealed to the Centre to stop the cold comfort “Redevelopment Project”, till the pandemic. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sanjeev Khanna said that;
“the construction was bad in law and there was no public participation on the issue”.
To take time by the forelock of judicious use of available resources. There has to be a way that benefits the larger masses over the redevelopment of an already existing avenue that can be dealt with once the pandemic is under control.
*The authors of this post are Arif Majruddin & Aliza Anjum, both are law students at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Source: Twitter/Satish Acharya
Article Number: 2021/LNLR/07B12
The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Journal.