Central Vista judgment: Issue of public participation in public projects

Central vista judgment

Synopsis: The issue of public consultation in the project development process should not be underestimated.

Introduction

In the recent judgment of the Supreme Court, Rajeev Suri v. Delhi Development Authority, Court granted its approval to the proposed redevelopment of the Central Vista in the national capital. 

What are the changes proposed?

  • In 2009, the Central Vista was considered as a Grade-I heritage precinct after extensive public consultation, which meant that any development inside the area had to be “regulated and controlled” without damaging its impressive style.
  • However, the Redevelopment plan includes taking down a number of post-Independence buildings, including the National Museum.

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Issues in the judgment on central Vista project

Following were 2 issues in the Central Vista Judgment, as per Suhrith Parthasarathy, the advocate of Madras High Court;

  • Court refused to acknowledge the existence of a right to public participation, a right, which ought to be seen as fundamental in a democracy.
  • Delhi Development Act, 1957 mandated opportunity to the public to place their objections on the record. Although objections were invited from the public, a mere three-days’ notice was given for the hearing on those complaints
    • However, majority judgment ruled that the law does not make personal hearings mandatory.
    • Issues: 2 issues are involved in this case:
      1. In the past SC itself held that arbitrary state action violates fundamental rights under article 14 i.e. sufficient time should be accorded to the public if any big change is being introduced to imp. Acts like DDA.
      2. For Public to scrutinise the project, authentic technical information on the project was available in the public domain.

Issues in general in the public projects

Public participation and architectural services procurement are 2 of several areas that are in urgent need of improvement; 

The issue of public Participation 
  • Horizontal accountability ensures check on government, by creating connected state organizations such as heritage committees and environmental regulators. 
  • Vertical accountability requires citizen oversight. Citizens are asking for an improved participatory process.  
      • Government argues that horizontal accountability is in place. Provisions for consultation although are not absent, but the process of consultation is vague. 
      • Judgment in central Vista is also not clear on the matter of public participation. 
      • Development of Land Acquisition act provides a few lessons that have spelt out consent required from a minimum number of landowners. 
Process of architectural services procurement 
  • The process of choosing a designer for a public project needs improvement as there is a lack of evaluation criteria and standards for design. Also, weightage is given to lower fees instead of better designs. 
  • The architecture firms face entry barriers as their expertise is judged on the basis of their company’s turnover. The unreasonable revenue conditions make it difficult for many firms to qualify and also reduce the pool of choice. 

Way Forward

  • First, according to the dissenting judge, the most basic principles of procedural fairness require the state to make adequate and intelligible disclosures. It becomes more important as the project will have permanent and irreversible consequences.
  • Second, for improving consultation, regulations and process have to clearly state what prior disclosures are required, when meetings have to be held and reasons for accepting and declining suggestions should be listed properly. 
  • Third, the government adopted the Quality and cost based selection (QCBS) for choosing designers. This method specifies requirements for consultants, places higher weightage on their technical capability and lower weightage on financial proposals. 
  • Fourth, in order to reduce the entry barrier, one can consider the suggestions made by the Architects’ Council of Europe. It suggests dropping turnover requirements and emphasized qualitative selection criteria. 
    • Weightage given to design value has to be clear and fixed as more than 65% of the registered architects in India are below 35 years and many firms are medium-sized, such changes are all the more required. 
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