Title of the case: Rajeev Suri v Delhi Development Authority & Ors.

Respondent: Delhi Development Authority and Union of India

Petitioner: Rajeev Suri

Equivalent Citation:  MANU/SC/0001/2021

Date of Judgement: 5.01.2021

Bench: Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Sanjiv Khanna

Brief Facts:

The Supreme Court recently announced its verdict on the Central Vista case in the Centre’s favor on 5th January 2021. It was a transferred case from the Delhi High Court. The case dealt with several petitions filed against the Central Vista Project initiated by the Central Government. The petitioners including Rajeev Suri had opposed this project as it involved the change in land use of the lush green area surrounding the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Vijay Chowk.

The central government and the Delhi Development Authority are given the power to modify the Master Plan of Delhi that was notified in 2007 to guide the direction of development of the National Capital Territory until 2021. This was modified in March 2020 to include the Central Vista project. Sections of land are assigned for specific purposes such as recreation, government, public and semi-public, which were modified to accommodate the Central Vista project. The petitioners argued that change in land use was not really a “modification” and also raised concerns on the manner in which the permissions were granted.

The Centre had intended to build a new parliament building and build spaces to accommodate the ministries that have been currently located at several different places. The project which is to be built at the 3- kilometre from the Rashtrapati Bhawan stretch was announced earlier in September 2019 and was to be constructed completely by 2022 August. It is going to be a triangular building with the Central Secretariat which will be completed by 2024.

A Gujarat based architectural consultancy firm named HCP designs had won the bid for consultancy for the redevelopment project.

On a prior hearing, the court had given permission to the Central Government to go ahead and lay the foundation stone for the project when the latter ensured that no construction work is going to take place there.

Also, the division bench of the Delhi Court on 28th February had stayed an order of its single judge bench requiring the DDA to inform it before making any changes to the master plan.

The petitions heard by the apex court were majorly on the following issues:
  1. The legitimacy of the permissions given to the project inclusive of the change of land use.
  2. The validity of the grant of a no- objection certificate by the Central Vista Committee and the clearances of environmental protection for building a new structure there. (this was a major concern as it allegedly violates the right to life under article 21 for preventing people to access the green areas)
  3. The order issued by the Delhi High Court regarding the DDA not informing before making changes to the master plan for allowing the project.
The Judgment

The judgment saw a split of 2:1 with Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari delivered their majority opinion with Justice Sanjeev Khanna dissenting with the judgment. The delivered majority judgment comprised of 432 pages out of which 100 pages dealt with the questions of rule of law, judicial review power of executive with respect to the Central Vista Case.

The Court had adjudicated on the question of Rule of law along with Judicial Review and had held that a thin line of distinction must be drawn between the action of the executive and its impact on the individual’s action and the action of the executive which is comprised of administrative functions with no effect on liberty of an individual.

The court further went on to say that the petitioner had failed to show a case of an alleged deprivation of life and personal liberty of an individual. In order to establish their case before the Hon’ble Court, a cause- effect relationship had to be proved. Further, the court viewing the statutory processes is going to be unethical with the procedure established by law.

On the question of heightened judicial review, the court held that it won’t be justified on its part to exercise its power of judicial review on a matter where already a decision has been taken by the executive. It held that a publicly elected government is entitled to create errors as long as the constitutional principles are not violated. The court also adjudicated upon the question of participatory democracy and public participation. It held that a fine balance exists in our constitution between public participation and effective functioning of administration. Also, public participation is for inviting constructive suggestions from all the parties likely to be affected.

Moreover, on the question of change in land use, the court held that it was it was legal I nature as section 11A(2) of the DDA bestows the power with the Central Government to change the framework of the master plan for the development of the city in Public interest. The court finally concluded by saying that they are acknowledged as the repositories of public trust and faith but they cannot compel the government to function in a particular way without any legal basis.

The Dissent

Another important aspect of this case was the dissent shown by Justice Sanjeev Khanna. Although, in his judgment of 179 pages he mentioned that he agreed on the conclusions of the notice inviting bid, award of consultancy and the Urban Arts Commission’s order with the majority judgment announced by Justice AM Khanwilkar, he expressed his dissent on 7 major issues. They were respectively:

  1. The invalidity of environmental clearances
  2. The premeditated nature of the permission granted by the Central Vista Committee
  3. The notice of development plan was not adequate
  4. The project proposed the complete redevelopment of the Central Vista
  5. The Central Govt. failed to take suggestions from the public
  6. The public didn’t have adequate time at its disposal
  7. There was no approval taken from the Heritage Conservation Committee

Analysis by – Tanuj Sharma

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