Legal RoundUpSupreme Court Roundups


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Supreme Court gives a go-ahead to Central Vista Project in a 2:1 verdict

“What purpose will a public interest proceeding serve if the fulfilment of one notion of public interest leads to a clear subjugation of another legitimate action of the State taken in public interest concerning project of national importance touching upon democratic polity.”

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Citizens have the right to know and participate in deliberation and decision making’; Justice Khanna dissents in 2:1 verdict clearing the Central Vista Project

“Deliberative democracy accentuates the right of participation in deliberation, in decision-making, and in contestation of public decision-making.”

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Supreme Court stays implementation of Farm Laws

“Court cannot be said to be completely powerless to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment”

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Upheld, albeit with directions. Why was IBC (Amendment) Act, 2020 challenged? What prompted SC to invoke Art. 142? Read comprehensive point-wise analysis of the 465-pages judgment

“There is nothing like a perfect law and as with all human institutions, there are bound to be imperfections. What is significant is however for the court ruling on constitutionality, the law must present a clear departure from constitutional limits.”

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No sexual assault if no ‘skin to skin’ contact? Supreme Court stays Bombay High Court’s “dangerous precedent” on POCSO Act

Attorney General for India K. K. Venugopal brought to the Court’s notice that the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court has passed a judgment dated 19.01.2021 is likely to set “a dangerous precedent”.

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SC allows video conferencing in matrimonial matter, though not as a matter of course

Bench stated that in the normal course, it would not have directed video conferencing in respect of matrimonial matters as per the above-referred Judgment, but in the present matter, since all the proceedings are being conducted in video conferencing, Court directed the Family Court, District Gautambudh Nagar, U.P. to conduct the trial through video conferencing.

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Succour to rape survivor whose identity was disclosed by media, SC Directs free education for minor children, house under PMAY

“The petitioner being a rape victim deserves treatment as rape victim by all the authorities.”

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“Unless there are any specific reasons for not opening, all Anganwadi Centres beyond the containment zones should be made functional by all the States/Union Territories at an early date”; SC directs

“Children are the future of our country and if there is some stinginess in providing them with adequate nutrition, the country as a whole is deprived in future of taking the benefit of their potential.”

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Does non-payment of stamp duty in a commercial contract invalidate the arbitration clause? Issue referred to the Constitutional bench to decide

The judgment authored by Indu Malhotra, J. framed the following question to be authoritatively settled by a Constitution bench of five judges:

 Whether the statutory bar contained in Section 35 of the Indian Stamp Act, 1899 applicable to instruments chargeable to Stamp Duty under Section 3 read with the Schedule to the Act, would also render the arbitration agreement contained in such an instrument, which is not chargeable to payment of stamp duty, as being non-existent, unenforceable, or invalid, pending payment of stamp duty on the substantive contract / instrument? ”

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MORE STORIES


Restitution of conjugal rights| Read how Supreme Court imparted justice to a woman despite rejecting her Transfer Petition

“While the hardship, both social and financial, pleaded by the petitioner deserves favourable consideration, the transfer of the case at this stage of the proceeding may not be appropriate.”

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Conception that housemakers do not add economic value to the household is “a problematic idea”: SC

The principle of awarding of future prospects must apply with equal vigor in case of non-earning victims of motor accidents, particularly with respect to homemakers.

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SC directs Central Pollution Control Board to submit a priority-wise list of Municipalities, along the river Yamuna which have been found to be most polluted

“Open surface water resources including rivers are lifeline of human civilization.”

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Whether the arbitral process could be interfered under Article 226/227 of the Constitution, and under what circumstance? Supreme Court explains

“If the Courts are allowed to interfere with the arbitral process beyond the ambit of the enactment, then the efficiency of the process will be diminished.”

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One-Sided and Unreasonable Clauses in Apartment Buyer’s Agreement & Unfair Trade Practice

“Developer cannot compel the apartment buyers to be bound by the one-sided contractual terms contained in the Apartment Buyer‘s Agreement.”

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“Right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution”; SC reminds in a case where State took possession of surplus land in absence of surplus land

“Right to property is still a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India though not a fundamental right. The deprivation of the right can only be in accordance with the procedure established by law.”

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Wilful disobedience or Wilful breach: Are these necessary requisites for bringing in action for ‘Civil Contempt’?

“…where an objection is taken to the jurisdiction to entertain a suit and to pass any interim orders therein, the Court should decide the question of jurisdiction in the first instance. However, that does not mean that pending the decision on the question of jurisdiction, the Court has no jurisdiction to pass interim orders as may be called for in the facts and circumstances of the case.”

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SC directs DU to declare Supplementary exam result & issue provisional degree to woman who fell short of attendance due to birth of her child & subsequent Teacher’s strike

The applicant joined 3-year LLB Course at University of Delhi and completed first 3 semesters without any hindrance. During the 4th Semester, she fell short of required attendance due to two difficulties. One was that she gave birth to a baby on 22-02-2018, which had disabled her to attend classes till the end of March, 2018. The second difficulty was that the Delhi University Teachers’ Association had gone on a strike from 16-03-2018 and hence the University could not conduct the minimum number of classes as prescribed by Rule 10 of the Bar Council of India Rules.

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Failure to make an enquiry before dismissal or discharge of a workman can be justified by leading evidence before the Labour Court: SC clarifies

The 3-judge bench of L. Nageswara Rao, Navin Sinha and Indu Malhotra* has set aside the impugned judgment of Uttaranchal High Court, whereby the High Court had set aside the award passed by the Labour Court on the ground that no disciplinary enquiry was held by the School regarding alleged abandonment of service by the respondent.

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Can subsequent death of a dependent be a reason for reduction of motor accident compensation? Supreme Court answers

“Any compensation awarded by a Court ought to be just, reasonable and consequently must undoubtedly be guided by principles of fairness, equity, and good conscience.”

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Penal rent can be levied & adjusted against the dues payable including gratuity if an employee occupies a quarter beyond the specified period: SC

The observation came in a case where a SAIL employee had retained a quarter after his retirement due to non-payment of retiral benefits.

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Is segmentation permissible for National Highway projects beyond a distance of 100 kms? MoEF&CC’s Expert Committee to examine, directs SC

Adoption of segmentation of a project cannot be adopted as a strategy to avoid environmental clearance impact assessment.

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Can a conditional acceptance of an offer be considered a concluded contract? Supreme Court answers

“With the greatest of respect, the High Court has cursorily dealt with the contentions of the Appellant and has not even discussed the cases that had been cited on behalf of the Appellant.”

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Section 6 of Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 is mandatory in nature, which acts as an injunction for Courts to follow; Supreme Court clarifies legal position

“A Court ‘must not’ sentence a person under the age of 21 years to imprisonment unless sufficient reasons for the same are recorded, based on due consideration of the probation officer’s report.”

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Nothing arbitrary with J&K High Court Chief Justice choosing to regulate the manner of exercise of his own power to relax qualifications: Supreme Court

“… the prescription of graduation as a qualification for promotion to the post of Head Assistant cannot be held as violative of Articles 14 and 16.”

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SC allows IIMC, JNU to remove 29 small trees to construct new buildings for academic block

“In lieu of the 29 tender trees to be cut, the applicant institute had planted 300 trees of different species and the 29 trees which were to be cut belonged to shisham, kikar and papri species. The trees planted were of above species as also other species.”

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Punjab Govt to pay pension to all 214 beneficiaries of 1991 Pension Scheme: SC

The Bench said that there was no merit in the argument of the state that only those persons who retired from service between 11-05-1995 and 30-06-1999 should be eligible for the benefit of the pension scheme. The Bench held that, the persons who were included in the list of 214 names given by the Government could not be deprived of the benefit of the scheme on any ground whatsoever.

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“Already dismissed from service on being convicted”; Supreme Court reduced quantum of sentence of 70 years old appellant, convicted under Prevention of Corruption Act

In a case relating to Prevention of Corruption Act, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and M.R. Shah*, JJ has partly allowed the appeal regarding quantum of sentence, while concurrent order of conviction by the Courts below was confirmed.

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Case BriefsSupreme Court

[NOTE: This Report highlights the important observations made by Justice Sanjiv Khanna in his dissenting opinion in the Central Vista Project case. Justice AM Khanwilkar has written the majority opinion, for himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, in the 2:1 judgment that gave a go ahead to the Centra Vista Project.]

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna**, JJ has, by a 2:1 verdict, has given a go ahead to the Central Vista Project. As per the Government, the Project, which plans to build a New Parliament building, is necessary for the creation of a larger working space for efficient functioning of the Parliament and for integrated administrative block for Ministries/Departments presently spread out at different locations including on rental basis.

Sanjiv Khanna, J said that he had reservations with the opinion expressed by A.M. Khanwilkar, J. on the aspects of public participation on interpretation of the statutory provisions, failure to take prior approval of the Heritage Conservation Committee and the order passed by the Expert Appraisal Committee.

Here are the key takeaways from Justice Sanjiv Khanna’s dissenting opinion

  • To ignore their salutary mandate as to the manner and nature of consultation in the participatory exercise, would be defeat the benefic objective of exercise of deliberation. Public participation to be fruitful and constructive is not to be a mechanical exercise or formality, it must comply with the least and basic requirements.

“Thus, mere uploading of the gazette notification giving the present and the proposed land use with plot numbers was not sufficient compliance, but rather an exercise violating the express as well as implied stipulations, that is, necessity and requirement to make adequate and intelligible disclosure.”

  • Intelligible and adequate disclosure was critical given the nature of the proposals which would affect the iconic and historical Central Vista. The citizenry clearly had the right to know intelligible details explaining the proposal to participate and express themselves, give suggestions and submit objections. The proposed changes, unlike policy decisions, would be largely irreversible. Physical construction or demolition once done, cannot be undone or corrected for future by repeal, amendment or modification as in case of most policies or even enactments. They have far more permanent consequences.

“It was therefore necessary for the DDA to inform and put in public domain the redevelopment plan, layouts, etc. with justification and explanatory memorandum relating to the need and necessity, with studies and reports. Of particular importance is whether by the changes, the access of the common people to the green and other areas in the Central Vista would be curtailed/restricted and the visual and integrity impact, and proposed change in use of the iconic and heritage buildings.”

  • Right to make objections and suggestions in the true sense, would include right to intelligible and adequate information regarding the proposal. Formative and constructive participation forms the very fulcrum of the legislative scheme prescribed by the Development Act and the Development Rules. Every effort must be made to effectuate and actualise the participatory rights to the maximum extent, rather than read them down as mere irregularity or dilute them as unnecessary or not mandated.
  • Deliberative democracy accentuates the right of participation in deliberation, in decision-making, and in contestation of public decision-making.
  • Adjudication by courts, structured by the legal principles of procedural fairness and deferential power of judicial review, is not a substitute for public participation before and at the decision-making stage. In a republican or representative democracy, citizens delegate the responsibility to make and execute laws to the elected government, which takes decisions on their behalf. This is unavoidable and necessary as deliberation and decision-making is more efficient in smaller groups.
  • Delegation of the power to legislate and govern to elected representatives is not meant to deny the citizenry’s right to know and be informed. Democracy, by the people, is not a right to periodical referendum; or exercise of the right to vote, and thereby choose elected representatives, express satisfaction, disappointment, approve or disapprove projected policies. Citizens’ right to know and the government’s duty to inform are embedded in democratic form of governance as well as the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • When information is withheld/denied suspicion and doubt gain ground and the fringe and vested interest groups take advantage. This may result in social volatility. This is not to say that consultation should be open ended and indefinite, or the government must release all information, as disclosure of certain information may violate the right to privacy of individuals, cause breach of national security, impinge on confidentiality etc. Information may be abridged or even denied for larger public interest. This implies that there should be good grounds and justification to withhold information.

“Boundaries of what constitutes legitimate with holding can at times be debatable; but in the present case, there is no contestation between transparency and the right to know on the one hand, and the concerns of privacy, confidentiality and national security on the other. Further, the Development Act and Development Rules demand and require openness and transparency, and embody without exception the right to know which is implicit in the right to participate and duty to consult.”

  • While the Respondents have claimed that modifications to the Master Plan of Delhi would not result in change in character of the plan, 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 does 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.”

  • It would be hypothetical and incongruous to accept that L&DO had applied its mind to the objections and suggestions even before the public hearing, and therefore, the court should assume that the Central Government had considered the objections and suggestions. The letter written by the L&DO dated 6th February 2020 with reference to the background note does not reflect consideration of the objections and suggestions but inter alia states that by an earlier letter dated 4th December 2019, agenda for change of land use of eight blocks has been forwarded for placing before the technical committee of the Authority and a background note was being enclosed. Authority was requested to take necessary action accordingly. This is not a letter or communication showing consideration of the suggestions and objections.

“Final decision must be conscientiously and objectively taken by the competent authority post the hearing.”

  • The Central Government has not placed on record even a single document or minutes to show that the objections and suggestions were considered by the Central Government, albeit they place reliance on the gazette notification 20th March, 2020 which does not specifically talk about considerations of objections and suggestions but states ‘whereas the Central Government have after carefully considering all aspects of the matter, have decided to modify the Master Plan for Delhi 2021/Zonal Development Plan for Zone D and Zone C’.
  • There is violation of the Section 45 as public notice of hearing fixed on 6th and 7th of February 2020 was issued by way of public notice dated 3rd February, 2020 published on 5 th February, 2020. SMS and email were issued at the last moment. Lack of reasonable time, therefore, prevented the persons who had filed objections and given suggestions to present and appear orally state their point of view.
  • A meeting of the Committee on 23rd April 2020 through video conferencing, with the agenda “Proposed New Parliament Building at Plot No.118, New Delhi”, was held, and ‘No Objection’ was granted.
  • Pertinently, the mandate of the Committee is to engage architects and town planners to advise the government on development of the Central Vista and the Secretarial Complex. However, four independent representatives, namely, (i) President of Indian Institute of Architects; (ii) representative of Indian Institute of Architects (Northern Chapter); (iii) President of Institute of Town Planners, India; and (iv) representative of Institute of Town Planners, India, were absent and did not participate. Even the Chief Architect of the NDMC was not present. Therefore, only the representatives of the Government, the Director Delhi Division, MoHUA and Joint Secretary (Admn.) of Ministry of Environment and Forests were present.
  • Given the nature and magnitude of the entire re-development project and having given due notice to the language, as well as object and purpose behind the re-development project, undoubtedly prior approvals and permissions from the Heritage Conservation Committee were/are required and necessary.

“Where power is given to do a certain thing in a certain way, then the thing must be done in that way or not at all. Other methods of performance are necessarily forbidden. When the statute prescribes a particular act must be done by following a particular procedure, the act must be done in that manner or not at all.”

However, Heritage Conservation Committee was never moved to secure approval/permission. No approval/permission has been taken.

  • Paragraph 1.3 states that redevelopment, engineering operations, or even additions/alterations etc. require prior permission of Heritage Conservation Committee. However for demolition, major repairs and alterations/additions to listed buildings or building precincts procedure of inviting objections and suggestions from the public shall be followed. Heritage Conservation Committee would consider the suggestions and objections. Decision of the Heritage Conservation Committee is final and binding.
  • Failure to record reasons can amount to denial of justice, as the reasons are a live link between the mind of the decision maker to the controversy in question and decision or conclusion arrived at. Therefore, requirement of a speaking order is judicially recognised as an imperative.

Directions

A) The Central Government/Authority would put on public domain on the web, intelligible and adequate information along with drawings, layout plans, with explanatory memorandum etc. within a period of 7 days.

B) Public Advertisement on the website of the Authority and the Central Government along with appropriate publication in the print media would be made within 7 days.

C) Anyone desirous of filing suggestions/objections may do so within 4 weeks from the date of publication. Objections/ suggestions can be sent by email or to the postal address which would be indicated/mentioned in the public notice.

D) The public notice would also notify the date, time and place when public hearing, which would be given by the Heritage Conservation Committee to the persons desirous of appearing before the said Committee. No adjournment or request for postponement would be entertained. However, the Heritage Conservation Committee may if required fix additional date for hearing.

E) Objections/suggestions received by the Authority along with the records of BoEH and other records would be sent to the Heritage Conservation Committee. These objections etc. would also be taken into consideration while deciding the question of approval/permission.

F) Heritage Conservation Committee would decide all contentions in accordance with the Unified Building Bye Laws and the Master Plan of Delhi.

G) Heritage Conservation Committee would be at liberty to also undertaken the public participation exercise if it feels appropriate and necessary in terms of paragraph 1.3 or other paragraphs of the Unified Building Bye Laws for consultation, hearing etc. It would also examine the dispute regarding the boundaries of the Central Vista Precincts at Rajpath.

H) The report of the Heritage Conservation Committee would be then along with the records sent to the Central Government, which would then pass an order in accordance with law and in terms of Section 11A of the Development Act and applicable Development Rules, read with the Unified Building Bye-laws.

I) Heritage Conservation Committee would also simultaneously examine the issue of grant of prior permission/approval in respect of building/permit of new parliament on Plot No. 118. However, its final decision or outcome will be communicated to the local body viz., NDMC, after and only if, the modifications in the master plan were notified.

J) Heritage Conservation Committee would pass a speaking order setting out reasons for the conclusions.

Further, the order of the EAC dated 22nd April,2020 and the environment clearance by the Ministry of Environment and Forest dated 17th June,2020 was set aside, and EAC has been requested to decide the question on environment clearance within a period of 30 days from the date copy of this order received, without awaiting the decision on the question of change/modification of land use. Speaking and reasoned order would be passed.

[Rajiv Suri v. Delhi Development Authority,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 7, decided on 05.01.2020]


*Justice AM Khanwilkar has penned the majority opinion. Read more about him here

** Justice Sanjiv Khanna has penned the dissenting opinion. 

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Here’s why the Supreme Court gave a go-ahead to Central Vista Project in a 2:1 verdict [Read majority opinion]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

[NOTE: This Report highlights the important observations made by Justice AM Khaniwlkar while writing the majority opinion in the Central Vista Project case, for himself and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari. Justice Sanjiv Khanna has given the dissenting opinion in the case]

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar*, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna**, JJ has, by a 2:1 verdict, has given a go ahead to the Central Vista Project. As per the Government, the Project, which plans to build a New Parliament building, is necessary for the creation of a larger working space for efficient functioning of the Parliament and for integrated administrative block for Ministries/Departments presently spread out at different locations including on rental basis.

“We are compelled to wonder if we, in the absence of a legal mandate, can dictate the government to desist from spending money on one project and instead use it for something else, or if we can ask the government to run their offices only from areas decided by this Court, or if we can question the wisdom of the government in focusing on a particular direction of development. We are equally compelled to wonder if we can jump to put a full stop on execution of policy matters in the first instance without a demonstration of irreparable loss or urgent necessity, or if we can guide the government on moral or ethical matters without any legal basis. In light of the settled law, we should be loath to venture into these areas.”

Here are the key highlights from the majority opinion: 

DENIAL OF NATURAL JUSTICE

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.

“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.”

QUASI-LEGISLATIVE FUNCTION

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.

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.

“… there is a distinction between modifying the use of land in a given zone and demarcating fresh boundaries for various zones of land. The change of usage of Government land is of a general nature. It is certainly not a purely routine administrative work. That means that the function of change in land use has a quasi-legislative hue to it.”

EFFECT OF SOME MEMBERS NOT JOINING THE MEETING

The notice of meeting was communicated to all the members on 16.4.2020 and they were asked to make the requisite arrangements in advance. Furthermore, the members who lacked in technical know-how to interact virtually were given the option of necessary assistance for the purpose of meeting. In such a scenario, it is inconceivable to say that the members were deliberately kept out of the meeting.

“If they failed to join the meeting for reasons best known to them, the outcome of the meeting cannot be assailed by alleging motives. Further, the minutes of meeting were mailed to all the members on 30.4.2020 and even then, no word of discord or dissatisfaction was received from any of these members. It must follow that their absence cannot be equated to an irregularity, much less an illegality. The Committee was not expected to sit over the proposal merely because some members were unwilling to join virtually despite all arrangements being in place. Indisputably, none of the absent members is before us in this case and we have no occasion whatsoever to consider them as being aggrieved in any manner, for no grievance at their instance has come on record.”

NON-APPLICATION OF MIND

When petitioners allege illegality on a ground such as absence of reasons in a pure administrative process, they must bear the burden to demonstrate the requirement of reasons in the first place. It is not as if reasons are mandatory in all decisions.”

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.

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.

“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.”

Not being a statutory body, an advisory body’s opinion has no finality attached to it nor could be appealed against to superior forum.

“Undeniably, in the process of decision-making, the Government may choose to consult as many bodies and agencies as it desires and opinion of every such advisory body cannot be assailed by supplying fictional standards without keeping in view the nature of body and context of advice.”

The DUAC was sitting in an advisory capacity so as to advise the Government on aesthetics of a development/re-development project. 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.”

LEGITIMATE EXPECTATION

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.

“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.”

ENVIRONMENTAL CLEARANCE

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.”

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

“Be that as it may, it is also relevant to note that mere absence of information does not vitiate an administrative process, that too in toto.”

The real effect of absence of information in public domain has to be tested on the anvil of actual prejudice on public’s ability to participate in the decision-making process, wherever provided for. It must result into a denial of legally enforceable right. In the present case, none of the persons who participated in raising objections to change in land use or those who sent representations to DUAC and EAC have come forward to contend that they could not access information, thereby rendering them incapable of participating in the process or in raising informed objections.

CONCLUSION

(i) There is no infirmity in the grant of:

(a) “No Objection” by the Central Vista Committee (CVC);

(b) “Approval” by the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) as per the DUAC Act, 1973; and

(c) “Prior approval” by the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) under clause 1.12 of the Building Byelaws for Delhi, 2016.

(ii) the exercise of power by the Central Government under Section 11A (2) of the DDA Act, 1957 is just and proper.

(iii) The recommendation of Environmental Clearance (EC) by Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) and grant thereof by MoEF is just, proper and in accordance with law including the 2006 Notification.

(iv) The project proponent may set up smog tower(s) of adequate capacity, as being integral part of the new Parliament building project; and additionally, use smog guns at the construction site throughout the construction phase is in progress on the site.

(v) MoEF to consider issuing similar general directions regarding installation of adequate capacity of smog tower(s) as integral part in all future major development projects whilst granting development permissions, particularly in cities with bad track record of air quality – be it relating to Government buildings, townships or other private projects of similar scale and magnitude, including to use smog guns during the construction activity of the Project is in progress.

(vi) The stage of prior permission under clause 1.3 of the Building Bye Laws of the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC), is the stage of actual development/redevelopment etc. work is to commence and not the incipient stage of planning and formalisation of the Project. Accordingly, the DDA shall obtain aforementioned prior permission of the designated Authority before actually starting any development/redevelopment work on the stated plots/structures/precincts governed by the heritage laws including on plot No. 118, if already not obtained.

(vii) The selection/appointment of Consultant, in light of the limited examination warranted in this case, is held to be just and proper.

[Rajiv SUri v. Delhi Development Authority,  2021 SCC OnLine SC 7, decided on 05.01.2020]


*Justice AM Khanwilkar has penned the majority opinion 

Know Thy Judge| Justice AM Khanwilkar


ALSO READ:

‘Citizens have the right to know and participate in deliberation and decision making’; Justice Khanna dissents in 2:1 verdict clearing the Central Vista Project

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has rebuked Centre for moving ahead with the construction work in the Central Vista project while the dispute is still pending before the Court but has allowed it to go ahead with the stone-laying program for the new Parliament building scheduled to be held on December 10, 2020.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta assured the Court that there will be no construction activity of any nature on the concerned site nor demolition of any structure will be done, including the further trans-location of trees will be kept in abeyance, until the pronouncement of judgment in all the cases.

Taking the statement on record, the Court directed,

“… the authorities would be free to continue with procedural processes without altering the status of the site(s) in question in any manner, including to continue with the scheduled programme of foundation stone-laying on 10th December, 2020.” 

[Rajiv Suri v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 996, order dated 07.12.2020]