Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Monday reserved its verdict on a plea seeking to halt the construction of Central Vista redevelopment project against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior advocate Sidharth Luthra, representing the petitioners, submitted they were only interested in the safety of the workers at the site and compared the project to “Auschwitz”, a concentration camp of Nazi Germany. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, alleged that the plea was a “facade” to stall the work.
After a three-hour long hearing, a bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh reserved its judgement in the matter.
The petitioners had questioned terming the construction activities as essential services at a time when a curfew was in force in Delhi due to Covid-19.
Luthra said: “There was a curfew imposed and everything had to be closed. Suddenly we find very fascinating thing, a letter is written seeking permission be granted to Shapoorji Pallonji in view of stringent timeline of work.”
Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt Ltd, which has been awarded the tender, also opposed the PIL, stating that it lacks bona fide, and the construction firm was taking care of its workforce.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing the firm, submitted there was no law under where he has to bring on record a worker’s willingness to work.
Luthra contended the Centre’s submissions in connection with availability of medical facilities, testing centre, etc on site were all falsehoods. He termed the ongoing Central Vista project work as “central fortress of death” and compared it to “Auschwitz” and cited empty tents have been erected with no beds for workers.
Mehta objected to the project being referred to as Auschwitz, saying that the criticism is fine, but one should not be venomous about the project, and such terms should not be used in court. Luthra argued that though Centre claimed workers stayed back willingly, but no proof of their willingness has been brought on record.
But Mehta countered this, saying: “Public interest is very selective (in the instant case) with regard to health of workmen.
Insisting that the court should dismiss the plea, Mehta cited that one of the petitioners has opposed the project before the top court gave it go ahead in January this year, and the petitioners were not concerned with the health and safety of workers at other sites where construction activity was ongoing.
He described the PIL as a “facade to disguise something they always wanted to stop under one pretext or the other.”
Singh, meanwhile, argued that the company had to finish it by November so that the Republic Day parade can be held on the Rajpath.
Petitioners Anya Malhotra and Sohail Hashmi had sought a stay on the construction activities of Central Vista against the backdrop of Covid-19 situation in the capital and the threat posed by the construction activities as a potential super spreader.