The Supreme Court on Friday told petitioners to go back to the Delhi High Court if they want a speedy hearing on the PIL seeking a stay on the construction of the Central Vista amid the raging COVID pandemic, but agreed that the situation is indeed grim.
"When we are sitting in closed rooms with face masks, itself shows the situation is grim. We would not like to make any further comments on the COVID situation as other benches are seized of the matter, otherwise our remarks may be misinterpreted," Justice Vineet Saran observed.
The bench comprising Justices Saran and Dinesh Maheshwari refused to entertain a plea by senior advocate Siddarth Luthra who had wanted the apex court to force the Delhi High Court to hear immediately the PIL against the Central Vista construction on the ground that it is not an essential activity.
The top court was hearing the appeal against the May 4 order of the high court adjourning the PIL for consideration after 13 days.
The high court said it wanted to first go through what the Supreme Court has deliberated in its judgment of January 5, giving a go ahead to the ambitious Central Vista project.
The apex court on Friday asked Luthra to mention the matter before the high court for urgent listing on May 10.
"We are of the opinion that since the matter is pending before the high court and the order challenged in the special leave petition is only of adjournment, we are not inclined to go into the merit of the case," the bench said.
It said that 'in given circumstances, we request Mr. Luthra to file the petition himself or through any other counsel, to make a request before Delhi High Court on Monday (May 10) to take up the matter as early as possible'.
It noted the submission of the senior advocate that the matter involves extreme urgency and said that the high court may consider the prayer and pass orders.
At the outset, Luthra told the bench that the matter is of extreme importance as the country is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
He said they are only concerned with the challenge to the permission granted for continuation of construction which is going on at Rajpath, Central Vista stretch and gardens.
"Labours are being transported from Sarai Kale Khan and Karol Bagh area to Raj Path and Central Vista, where construction work is going on. This enhances chances of spread of COVID infection among them," Luthra said.
He referred to the letter written by Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) for continuation of construction work in Central Vista project on the ground that it is time bound work.
"The permission was granted on the ground that it was essential activity. How is construction work an essential activity? In a health emergency, we cannot risk the lives of workers and their families and put more pressure on health care system," Luthra said adding that peak of second wave of COVID-19 is being anticipated by May 15 and high court has listed the matter for May 17, which would not serve any purpose.
He said that when the nation is considering lockdown and even Indian Premier League is being shut, the construction activity cannot be allowed.
The top court disposed of the plea.
The high court has deferred the hearing on a PIL which had sought direction to Centre to halt construction work at the Central project due to prevailing COVID situation.
Petitioners Anya Malhotra, who works as a translator, and Sohail Hashmi, a historian and documentary filmmaker, have claimed that the project has the potential to be a super spreader if allowed to continue during the pandemic.
They have said before the high court that the continuation of the project was a matter of concern in view of the "crumbling" healthcare system and the lives at stake of the workers employed at the construction site.
The project entails construction activity on Rajpath and the surrounding lawns from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhawan, the plea, filed through advocates Gautam Khazanchi and Pradyuman Kaistha, has said.
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.