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'No objection to constructing 10 Parliaments'

January 21, 2021 11:54 IST
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'But you cannot encroach upon the spaces that belong to the public.'
'For this new Parliament building, we envisage a minimum of 400 trucks, the huge long trailer trucks will be coming in day in and day out right into the heart of the national capital.'
'It will completely destroy Delhi's peace.'
'The beautiful sylvan surroundings of the quiet, beautiful, New Delhi is going to be destroyed for all time to come.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi offers prayers as he lays the foundation stone of the new Parliament building in New Delhi, December 10, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo

Construction work on the new Parliament building commenced on January 15 over a month after Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi laid the foundation stone for the project under the government's ambitious Central Vista redevelopment plan.

One of the petitioners in the Supreme Court who had challenged the Modi government's change-of-land-use notification, Rajeev Suri, tells Prasanna D Zore/ that not only has the Supreme Court not applied its mind seriously while giving a 2:1 majority verdict in the Central Vista redevelopment plan issue, but that all Constitutional bodies are being subverted by the government.

You were one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court in the Central Vista redevelopment project. How do you react to the court's majority verdict against your plea?

What can I say? I am extremely, deeply anguished and can only say that the rule of the law in the country is completely being subverted and broken down. That's all I can say.

Why do you say that the rule of law in India is being subverted?

The fact is that we challenged this entire process (of redevelopment of the Central Vista in New Delhi) on very substantial grounds (of law).

For instance, there are certain public spaces which are meant for the people of the country. Under the doctrine of public trust, you cannot just take over these public parks and spaces and start building government offices and Parliament houses.

We have, of course, no objection whatsoever to constructing one Parliament or 10 Parliaments, but the fact is you cannot encroach upon the spaces that belong to the public.

These are the issues that have to be well-thought out.

We have challenged the reconstruction under very specific provisions of the law, like the Delhi Development Act (DDA), as per which only certain modifications, and not fundamental changes, can take place in the master plan.

But these are huge fundamental changes in which 84 acres of public spaces are being taken over and converted into offices.

Effectively, they are converting this into a Central Vista which was never conceived as an office complex centrum.

It (the Central Vista) was conceived as an eclectic mix of art and culture and office and museums and libraries and archives in the centre by the Lutyens-Baker (British architects Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker) combine and what this redevelopment will do is convert this space completely into a high-security government zone in which there will only be babus (bureaucrats), more babus, and more babus to fill all the government offices.

They have deprived the entire citizenry of India of these open public spaces, which is a complete failure and subversion of the doctrine of public trust.

Which law has been subverted?

I just mentioned that any planned city is always designed on the basis of a master plan, and then after the master plan there are certain zonal plans.

Now, in Delhi you have the master plan, which is called the MPD (Master Plan Delhi 2021), which divides Delhi into 14 zones, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, etc... and this particular area in New Delhi (where the new Parliament building and other housing complexes will be built) comes under Zone D, should have a zonal plan, to which you are supposed to adhere.

This zonal plan has to be made within one year of making the master plan that outlines what all you plan to do in that particular zone.

Now from 1999 onwards no zonal plan was drawn up for Zone D. The DDA states that until and unless you do not know the population density and the users in that particular zone, you cannot make any fundamental changes. You can only make minor modifications.

We do not have any updated information for the last 20-25 years on what is happening in Zone D.

What is the population density?

What is the number of people that are here now?

What are the changes that have taken place over the last two-and-a-half decades and we are going ahead with construction of these huge number of buildings.

How will it impact the environment, traffic, groundwater resources, the avian bird life, the migratory birds that come in every year?

Has the Supreme Court's majority verdict cleared the way for the Central Vista redevelopment plan?

Absolutely. A majority verdict means that that there's a dissenting vote (of Justice Sanjeev Khanna), but that dissenting vote does not have the power of actually withholding the progress going forward.

The only option now left for us is to of appeal against this verdict. You see, even in the Supreme Court you can appeal this in a five-judge bench, but again as the very term tells it's a review; that won't go into the merits of the case all over again, and the essences is that it will not get us any great succour.

But by the virtue of the fact that we struggled for 14 months to bring this issue into the national forefront and to fight this battle, we have to take it to what is called res judicata, that is the finality of the judgment that after everything that has been done legally, we cannot discuss it anymore.

Thus far and no further, in legal terms; we've discussed it, debated it, studied it and now there is finality to it and so we have to let it rest.

IMAGE: The proposed new Parliament building. Photograph: Kind courtesy, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla/Twitter

How will the social, environmental and public life of the people of Delhi get affected as the construction begins?

Essentially, the Parliament building will be constructed first before August 2022, which will see the Indian Republic celebrating the 75th year of our Independence.

You can imagine the amount of dust and debris generated due to construction of just one house in Delhi, and you can imagine the extent of pollution which the construction of a huge building will lead to.

For this new Parliament building, we envisage a minimum of 400 trucks, the huge long trailer trucks will be coming in day in and day out right into the heart of the national capital.

It will completely destroy Delhi's peace. The beautiful sylvan surroundings of the quiet, beautiful, New Delhi is going to be destroyed for all time to come. There's no question about it.

And they have come up with such frivolous solutions like putting up smog towers, putting up smog guns; how banal and stupid can you get?

Won't these smog cannons and guns help reduce pollution?

Nothing. It's a placebo; it's like you have a headache and I give you two tablets: Dispirin and a sugar-coated tablet.

You will think you are having Dispirin when you are actually given a sugar-coated pill and you will be made to believe that you have got rid of your headache. But actually, the headache is very much there.

You and I don't need rocket science to understand how such massive construction will affect the environment.

All the Constitutional bodies that we have so painstakingly built up over the last 72-73 years of our great nationhood, to give them complete independence, have all been subverted.

There is a complete subversion of all our Constitutional bodies and institutions.

If you were to find flaws in the Supreme Court's majority verdict, what would they be?

We were looking forward to an innovative judgment, in which they take into consideration the existing laws and validate them. They have just validated the government's point of view.

Then, of course, there is the environmental issue, the change in land use which relates to the master plan...

But the Supreme Court's majority verdict said there is no infirmity in clearances granted to build a new Parliament.

They can say whatever they want to say. Does that make it the truth?

That is not the truth. That is what we have fought against. It's my word against their word.

They should have taken this issue with much greater seriousness; they cannot just say that there is no infirmity. Where is the proof of that?

I've just given you proof of the infirmities related to the DDA, Section 11(A), which states that the government can only act within the parameters of the law.

They cannot go beyond the law, but they have acted beyond the law and the Supreme Court, unfortunately, has upheld it. That again is a mistake by the Supreme Court.

As per the Supreme Court majority verdict the construction cannot go ahead unless the Heritage Conservation Committee scrutinises the construction plan?

What difference does that make? The Heritage Conservation Committee is part of the ministry of housing and urban affairs; it is an adjunct to that ministry, a subservient body. It's like a servant in your house. So, they are not going to do anything different.

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