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Rajeev Suri vs Delhi Development Authority and Ors. (Transferred case (civil) no. 230 of 2020)

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

CASE

Rajeev Suri vs Delhi Development Authority and Ors.


CITATION

Transferred case (civil) no. 230 of 2020


CORAM

Supreme court of India: Civil Original Jurisdiction

Full bench: Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna.


ALSO KNOWN AS

The Central Vista Case


POINT OF CONSIDERATION

To undertake a comprehensive and heightened judicial scrutiny regarding the permissibility of the Central Vista Project of the Government of India.


FACTS

  1. The Parliament House building, a Grade-I heritage structure, was commissioned in 1927 and stands as a 93 years old structure today. Post 1971 census wherein the total population of India was recorded as 548,159,6521, the number of seats for the House of People was fixed at 545. Today, the population has spiralled exponentially and is stated to have crossed the 130-crore mark. Accordingly, enhanced and commensurate spatial requirements ought to be in place. Furthermore, the structure falls short of fire, water and electrical safety norms and poses a grave security risk for the legislators and secretariat staff.

  2. In order to address the concerns stated above, the Central Government decided to construct a new Parliament building with a futuristic approach and the House of People being 3 times the size of the present chamber.

  3. The petitioner in the present case raised objections, including but not limited to the manner and procedure adopted for effecting the proposed changes in the central vista precincts, to the Delhi Development Authority.

  4. Public hearings were conducted thereagainst, the petitioners approached the High Court of Delhi for challenging the Public Notice issued by the DDA. The High Court (Single Judge) directed the respondents to inform the Court before taking any step in furtherance of the impugned public notice.

  5. The Union of India (Respondent) too exception to this and filed a Letter patent appeal before the Division bench of the High Court. The Division Bench ordered ex-parte stay on the above direction of learned single Judge vide order dated 28.2.2020. Another writ petition being W.P. (C) No. 1575 of 2020 was also pending before the High Court.

  6. Aggrieved by the order of the Division Bench, the petitioners approached the Supreme Court vide Special Leave Petition which resulted in the withdrawal of the entire subject matter before the Supreme Court.

  7. Thereafter, more petitions were filed and the apex court agreed to hear all petitions analogously.

ISSUES RAISED & RATIO


  • Whether the procedure involved in redevelopment is antithetical to the principle of Natural Justice?

The court stated that “The principle of “Rule of Law” requires rule in accordance with the law as it is, and not in accordance with an individual’s subjective understanding of law. Substantial justice is the core of any such inquiry and it is in this direction that processes are to be understood and adjudicated upon. The Court needs to be conscious of all aspects in a non-adversarial public interest litigation where public interest is the sole premise of enquiry.


The petitioners have not been able to demonstrate any case of denial of natural justice. For, the prescribed procedure, both by statute and convention, seems to have substantially been followed. In fact, in circumstances when challenge is raised to a project of immense national importance which is not limited to any particular city or state or intended to give benefit to any private individual, impediments cannot be induced by reading in requirements which are not mandated by law


  • Whether the Government Action was in excessive delegation of legislative power?

It is no doubt true that the classification of legislative or administrative functions can no more be done like a pigeon-holes classification. It was because of this reason that the phrases “quasi-legislative” and “quasi-administrative” have made inroads in the modern administrative law. In fact, in practical parlance, even quasi-legislative functions are treated as falling under the wider ambit of administrative functions.


The precise challenge therein was regarding excessive delegation of legislative powers. The Court recognised that it was not a case of excessive delegation as legislative functions like preparation of comprehensive development plan and zoning of land in different use zones could be delegated by the legislature to the development authorities for various reasons. Strictly speaking, the Court in that case did not enter upon an examination of whether the function of town planning was of an administrative character or legislative. The Court took it to be of a legislative character and answered accordingly. The present question was not in issue in that case.


Therefore, it cannot be stated as a direct authority upon the enquiry before us. However, the fact that broad activities of town planning involved in that case are synonymous with the activities involved in the present case is of guiding value. In the present case, what is being modified is the master/zonal plan already in existence. True that is not an action that creates new zones or new parameters. However, the underlying nature of activity being performed here is of town planning and change in land use of one or couple of plots in a given zone. It is a modification which will provide direction to all future development of the subject plots.


  • What is the status of Central Vista Committee (CVC)? Is the Government bound by the opinion of CVC? Whether CVC has failed to exercise its mandate while granting “No Objection” to the subject proposal? Whether the clearance by CVC stands vitiated due to absence of reasons and non-application of mind?


The CVC was created by an Office Memorandum (executive fiat) by the Government at that time as an advisory body to advice the Government on matters sent for its consideration. It was not created by an Act of Parliament.


The creation of CVC was to have the benefit of an additional scrutiny over the development of the central vista region in the form of approval. It has no binding authority on Government action and in case of conflict, the decision of the Government must prevail.


The primary submission of the petitioner pertains to nonapplication of mind, absence of reasons, mechanical approval and abdication of real duty envisaged for CVC.


The court held that, in cases when the statute itself provides for an express requirement of a reasoned order, it is understandable that absence of reasons would be a violation of a legal requirement and thus, illegal. However, in cases when there is no express requirement of reasons, the ulterior effect of absence of reasons on the final decision cannot be sealed in a straightjacketed manner. Such cases need to be examined from a broad perspective in the light of overall circumstances.


Further, in cases where individual rights are affected by the decision, an opportunity of being heard and application of mind couched in the form of reasons form part of the jurisprudential doctrine. Such cases need to be distinguished from cases which do not impinge upon individual rights and involve ordinary administrative processes. For, similar standards cannot be deployed to decide both these cases.


Not being a statutory body, an advisory body’s opinion has no finality attached to it nor could be appealed against to superior forum. The court held that, “What we are dealing with is the opinion of an advisory (administrative) body which is appointed by the same Government which calls for its advice and not to adjudicate upon rights of individuals. Even if we assume that the no objection by an advisory body would have the effect of affecting the objectivity of the final decision, the fact remains that it does not take the final decision. It is meant to invoke its expertise in light of the subject proposal placed before it and advise the Government as regards the feasibility of the proposed development in connection with the existing central vista region. The final decision would be that of the competent authority of the concerned department.”


  • Whether CVC performs functions akin to statutory bodies and has acted in contravention of legitimate expectations of public.

Legitimate expectations may arise in cases when the decision-making body deviates from a set standard, thereby impinging upon the rights of those who are subjected to the decision. Since, In the present case, had the project proponent entirely skipped the step of consultation with CVC, enforcing such consultation by operation of legitimate expectation may have come into play.


  • Whether the approval of DUAC (Delhi Urban Art Commission) was essential even before the release of Consultation Services NIT? Whether DUAC acted in an arbitrary manner while considering the proposal thereby vitiating the approval granted by it?

The aforesaid scheme of the DUAC Act succinctly reveals that the mandate of DUAC is to offer its advice in matters of preservation, development, re-development and maintenance of aesthetic quality of urban and environmental design within Delhi. Such advice is not rendered in context of each and every aspect of the proposal, rather, it only ensures that overall aesthetic quality of the concerned region is not being disturbed. Over and above the concern of aesthetics, there is no other aspect on which the Commission’s (DUAC’s) approval is mandated.


It is not meant to analyse any other aspect of the project. In that, it is expected to apply its mind to those aspects of the project which may have a bearing on aesthetics. The Minutes succinctly reveal that complete information relating to designs was placed before the DUAC and it applied itself on an array of factors including parking, plantation of trees, traffic, appearance of facade, ventilation, landscape, building equipment etc. so far as the same are relevant for its enquiry, to fulfil its advisory duties. The allegation of arbitrariness is easy to raise in a theoretical discourse, but hard to establish in a Court of law where unsubstantiated considerations have no place.


  • Other issues discussed by the Court includes:

  1. Environmental Clearance: the court held that once an expert committee has duly applied its mind to an application for EC, any challenge to its decision has to be based on concrete material which reveals total absence of mind. Absent that material, due deference must be shown to the decisions of experts. “The facts of the case do not reveal any deliberate concealment of fact/information from the EAC or supply of any misinformation.”

  2. Timeline of the Project: Once the project proponent frames a conscious timeline of completion of various projects which broadly fall under the umbrella of a common vision for the region, the same cannot be disturbed on the notion that the whole vision should go through the regulatory compliances at once. That would defeat the whole purpose of advance planning of a development activity. Planning involves in-depth consideration of a wide range of concerns including regulatory requirements. The decision to attribute different timelines and purposes to different projects is a domain of planning and the Court cannot readily attribute the label of mala fides to such informed decision until and unless there is a clear attempt to evade the requirements of law.

  3. Selection/Appointment of Consultant: In this case, the process of tender was used to select the consultant wherein uniform conditions were prescribed for all the participants who were eligible and free to participate in the process. Upon submission of bids, their applications were analysed on pre-determined set of objective parameters which were duly notified to all the participants beforehand. The petitioners have not shown that the conditions of tender were deliberately crafted in a manner to make them suitable for a particular participant. Nor, have they shown that the conditions were violative of any mandatory requirement. Hence, Just because the Government has followed a particular method of selection/appointment of the Consultant for the stated project and another one would have been a better option cannot be the basis to quash the appointment already made after following a fair procedure consequent to inviting tenders from eligible persons similarly placed.

  4. Public Trust Doctrine: “For proving a violation of public trust, it falls upon the petitioners to establish that public resources are being squandered and used or planned to be used in a manner which cannot be termed as beneficial public use. As for the respondents, it falls upon them to establish that the proposed use of public resources is aligned in the direction of beneficial use and in public interest.” Since, in the present case, the respondents have elaborately demonstrated the imminent need for the project. Also, the change in land use does not result into any deprivation of recreational spaces. On the contrary, the changes would result into optimisation and greater access to open spaces including entail in assets creation.

  5. Availability of information in Public Domain: Evidently, all relevant documents from the stage of expression of need for the project by Speaker of Lok Sabha to appointment of consultant, issuance of public notice, conduct of public hearing, final notification for change in land use and minutes of meetings of CVC, DUAC and EAC were placed in public domain. The petitioners have not pointed out a single document which formed a part of the process and was not placed in public domain.


Read the complete judgment here.

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