‘Govt. has ignored objections to Central Vista redevelopment’: Justice Sanjeev Khanna

Justice Sanjeev Khanna, in his separate dissent, on Tuesday said the Centre had failed to produce even a single document to show that objections and suggestions made in the Central Vista project were considered by it.

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“Deliberative democracy accentuates the right of participation in deliberation, in decision-making, and in contestation of public decision-making… Central Government has not placed on record even a single document or minutes to show that the objections and suggestions were considered by it,” Justice Khanna wrote emphatically.

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Adequate public participation and hearing out of the objections avoid a sense of injustice and is “reflective of democratic principle at the heart of our society”.

Justice Khanna said a reading of the notice inviting tenders, published by the Central Public Works Department inviting design and planning firms for the “Development / Redevelopment of Parliament Building, Common Central Secretariat and Central Vista at New Delhi”, indicates that the proposed project did envisage extensive change to the landscape.

“The impact of the changes envisaged are not minor and what is envisaged is complete redevelopment of the entire Central Vista, with site development infrastructure, landscape design, engineering design and services, mobility plan, etc. The expenditure to be incurred and demolition and constructions as proposed indicate the expansive and sweeping modifications/changes purposed,” Justice Khanna highlighted.

In his dissent of 179 pages, Justice Khanna said the “indirect participation of the citizens is critical to democracy”.

Unlike the majority opinion by Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari, which berated the petitioners’ enthusiasm to question policy matters through public interest petitions, Justice Khanna said contesting a government decision in a constitutional court is also one form of “public participation”.

But litigation post the decision is not as efficacious as a full-fledged public participation before the decision-making stage.

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“Citizens approach elected representatives and through them express their views both in favour and against proposed legislations and policy measures… Vested interests can be checked. Difficult, yet beneficial, decisions can be implemented,” Justice Khanna wrote.

Justice Khanna said it is just not right to ignore government’s failure to provide “intelligible and adequate disclosure to fulfil the requirement of public participation” in the decision-making process for the Central Vista project.

“The historic and iconic nature of the Central Vista is too apparent to even consider any counter argument,” Justice Khanna observed.

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The public should have been provided not only with information about the draft scheme but also an outline of realistic alternatives and indication of main reasons for the authority’s adoption of the scheme.

“It is a general obligation to inform as to what the proposal is and exactly why it is under positive consideration. It should tell enough to enable the public to make an intelligent response,” Justice Khanna noted.

The right to make objections and suggestions in the true sense, would include right to intelligible and adequate information regarding the proposal.

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