The article is written by Harshita Srivastava, from NMIMS School of Law, Bangalore. This article throws light on the case of Rajeev Suri vs Delhi Development Authority & Ors., by discussing the background, role of judicial review, issues and facts of the case, the judgement pronounced and the aftermath of the judgement.
The Supreme Court refused earlier this year to accept the Central Vista project as a unique case requiring increased or heightened judicial assessment. The Court stated that the government had the right to make policy mistakes as long as it followed Constitutional norms. The Central Vista project in New Delhi includes the Rashtrapati Bhawan, Parliament House, North and South Blocks, India Gate, the National Archives, and other landmarks. The Indian Constitution adopted the American Constitution’s judicial review mechanism.
Judicial review was used by the Indian Courts before the Constitution came into force. During the British Raj, the Federal System of government was introduced in India. As a result of this demonstration, the governing bodies of the country were granted full power within their respective circles. The Federal Court was established in 1935 to resolve disputes between states and the federal government. Moreover, a Federal Court investigation has been ordered into possible constitutional violations in connection with troops deployed to present federalism to India. As it is an official document, the Constitution does not explicitly give the Federal court jurisdiction to undertake a judicial review, but as a Constitutional Court, it implicitly has that power to decipher the document and decide whether or not it is constitutional.
It is a judicial proceeding in which a judge considers the legality of a public body’s decision or conduct. In other words, judicial reviews dispute the process by which a decision was obtained rather than the merits or shortcomings of the decision itself. It is the power wielded by a country’s courts to scrutinize the activities of the legislators, executive, and administrative branches of government to ensure that they are in sync with the nation’s Constitution. Judicial review has two crucial functions: legitimizing government action and protecting the Constitution from inappropriate government encroachment.
Judicial review is regarded as a fundamental feature of the Constitution. The Indian judiciary’s interpretational and observational duties are referred to as judicial review.
With the revocation of the locus standi concept, suo motu cases and Public Interest Litigation (PIL) have empowered the judiciary to interfere in numerous public matters even when there is no complaint from the offended party. Article 372 (1), Article 13, Article 32, Article 226, Article 251, Article 254, Article 246 (3), Article 131, Article 132, Article 133, Article 134, Article 135, Article 136, Article 137, and Article 245 are some of the Constitutional provisions that underpin the judicial review process.
In 1949, the Supreme Court of the United States proposed the Judicial Review Doctrine. The landmark case of William Marbury v. James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States (1803), is widely regarded as the beginning of constitutional judicial review when John Marshall declared that the Supreme Court could nullify laws passed by Congress. Marshall’s assertion of judicial review power in the United States Constitution was not rationally stated; it ultimately failed due to the Supreme Court’s decision and the lack of political backlash against it.
Meaning of judicial review
Judicial Review is a court proceeding that takes place in the administrative court and involves a judge reviewing the legality of a decision or action. When there are no other options to challenge, judicial review is the remedy. Judicial Review is concerned with whether the law has been effectively applied and the legal precautions have been followed. Thus, judicial review is the power of courts to rule on the constitutionality of government administrative and executive activities that lie within their customary jurisdiction. The Constitution was founded on the premise that the government should be limited and that there should be two laws; namely, common law and incomparable law. Any administrative demonstration by traditional law-making bodies that reject the provisions of the predominant legislation should be declared unlawful, and some institutions should have the authority or position to declare such statutory acts void.
In the Fundamental Rights Case (1976), Justice Khanna stated that judicial review has become an important part of our Constitution and that the High Courts and the Supreme Court have the authority to decide on the constitutional legality of resolution structures. If any of the rules are found to violate any of the articles of the Constitution, which is the criterion for the legality of all legislation, the Supreme Court and the High Courts have the authority to invalidate the rules.
Grounds for judicial review
The Indian Constitution explicitly provides for judicial review in Article 13 by stating that:
- 13 (1): If the provisions of the Constitution are inconsistent with laws existing in the territory of India at the time of the Constitution’s commencement, all such laws will be declared null and void.
- 13 (2): The state shall not make laws that take away or abridge the fundamental rights conferred by part 3 of the constitution, and any law that contravenes these rights is invalid to the extent of the violation.
- 13 (3): Law includes ordinances, orders, bylaws, rules, regulations, notifications, customs and usages.
The Indian Constitution provides for judicial review of all laws, past and present, under Article 13. According to the Constitution, the High Courts and the Supreme Court of India have this power, so if a law conflicts with the provisions of Part III, it is unconstitutional.
As per the constitution of India, there are several fundamental aspects to judicial review. They include:
1. Infringement of fundamental rights.
2. Violation of various other Constitutional provisions.
3. Passage of legislation in violation of Constitutional mandates governing power distribution.
4. The grant of essential legislative authority to the executive or another body by the legislature.
5. Breach of implied limitations and restrictions.
The Indian concept of judicial review consists of three main aspects:
(1) Review of legislative action by the court
(2) Judicial review of judgments and other judicial actions;
(3) Judicial review of executive decisions
Rajeev Suri v. Delhi Development Authority and Ors.
Rajeev Suri vs. Delhi Development Authority and Ors. (2021), also known as the Central Vista case, conducted a comprehensive judicial assessment of the legality of the Central Vista Project of the Government of India. The judgment was pronounced by a bench constituting Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Sanjiv Khanna, and Dinesh Maheshwari on 5 January 2021. The Supreme Court ruled that the Central Vista Committee’s (CVC) decision of “no protest” and “endorsement” by the Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) and “earlier endorsement” by the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) of the Central Vista Project, for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone on December 10, is without flaw.
- The Parliament House complex, a Grade-I heritage landmark, dates from 1927 and has been standing for 93 years.
- India’s House of People was assigned 545 seats following the 1971 census when its population was estimated to be 548,159,6521.
- The population has exploded and is estimated to have exceeded 130 million people. It is crucial to establish similar spatial conditions.
- In addition, the building design fails to comply with fire, water, and electrical safety regulations, endangering lawmakers and secretariat staff.
- As a response, the Central Government decided to create a new Parliament that would feature cutting-edge methodologies and a House of People many times larger than the current chamber.
- With regards to the new adjustments in the focal view region, the lawyer addressed several issues to the Delhi Development Authority, including but not limited to the technique and method used to implement them.
- A challenge to the DDA’s notice was filed in the High Court of Delhi by candidates who faced formal conferences meant to discredit them. By the High Court (Single Judge), the respondents were advised to notify the Court before publishing the reprimanded public notification.
- A Letter Patent Allure was filed with the Division Seat of the High Court by the Union of India (Respondent). The Division Bench granted an ex-parte stay of the learned single Judge’s earlier direction in an order dated 28.2.2020. Another writ petition, under the close watch of the High Court, was also filed.
- After the solicitors received the Division Bench request, they filed a Special Leave Petition with the Supreme Court. This led to the entire case coming under scrutiny. Following this, further petitions were filed, and the court agreed to hear all of them in the same way.
CVC had no objection
Each of the endorsements allowed by the body and the synthesis of the Central Vista Committee has been tested by the solicitors. They claimed that the CVC had been created to bolster the endorsements and that the authorities who were advocating for the project had collaborated with the CVC. This was an irreconcilable situation.
Attorneys argued that the meetings with the Delhi Urban Commission (DUAC) should be conducted during the arrangement origination process. In their view, endorsements were accepted without valid use of the mind in the absence of a complete meeting. Despite this, the government has stated that given various stages for different portions of the undertaking, DUAC’s endorsement has been obtained for the Parliament project, though the endorsement for the Central Vista region will follow as and when the additional improvement movement is proposed.
According to the applicants, the government failed to consult the Heritage Conservation Committee, a specialist body for issues dealing with legacy structures, which should have been consulted from the very beginning, even before the plan was finalized.
The counsel claimed that the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) had no authority to issue clearances for the reason that Central Vista was a multi-sector project and that the committee was unable to manage such a venture without sectoral authority. The Court nevertheless ruled that the case doesn’t have multi-sectoral components, due to it being a “simpliciter development project.” It likewise said that the applicants had failed to prove their misgivings by putting actual evidence on record.
Sanjeev Khanna’s dissent was another important aspect of this case. He did concur with the majority judgment announced by Justice AM Khanwilkar on the notice inviting bids, the awarding of the consulting contract, and the Urban Arts Commission’s order in his 179-page long judgment, but he expressed dissent on seven major points. They were as follows:
- Clearances issued by environmental agencies are invalid.
- The Central Vista Committee granted permission with premeditated intent.
- Not enough notice was given of the development plan.
- Redevelopment of the Central Vista was proposed in the project.
- The government of India did not consult the public for suggestions.
- A lack of time hindered the public’s ability to participate.
- The Heritage Conservation Committee did not approve the project.
Despite reviewing the arguments detailed in the petition and responses, the Court said that it cannot comment on the merits. The Heritage Conservation Committee is a specialized authority that is responsible for dealing with complex and esoteric matters at the first stage of the process. Consideration and examination of the merits of the pleas would directly encroach upon their jurisdiction and exceed the power of judicial review. It is the reasoning and discussion in the orders by the statutory/quasi-judicial authorities that are subject to judicial scrutiny and review. Architects, town planners, historians, urbanists, engineers, etc. should assess and serve as expert guides on matters relating to heritage, architecture, functionality, etc. To sum up, the merits stand as different representations of perceptions and beliefs.
The respondents are certain that the redevelopment of Central Vista and the new Parliament building is an imperative necessity. Central Vista requires a major facelift. Likewise, if the new Parliament building is necessary, and is a must, it should be constructed. The old Parliament buildings need to be redone, as well as some non-heritage buildings like Shashtri Bhawan and Nirman Bhawan. In addition to former and current speakers, several petitioners propose partial and regulated redevelopment to preserve and enhance the heritage, ethos, and visual appeal.
People have been displeased with the lack of information and details regarding Central Vista and Parliament House, a heritage building and a national landmark. In their view, experts and specialists can offer acceptable solutions for conserving and functionalizing historical buildings. Legislative authorities are required to take into account both the concerns raised by petitioners and the responses offered by respondents, based on and under statutory mandates. After professional experts determine the details of the case, the issue has to be decided based on the law. We have interfered on procedural grounds, not because of the merits of claims, but rather due to failures to adhere to mandates and statutes.
Impact of the judgment
Environmental clearances for the project were affirmed by the judgment and the writ petitions contesting the clearances were dismissed. It said that preserving trees and building smog towers can control pollution levels without imposing any barriers on development. According to the schedule for the Notification of Environment Impact Assessment, various projects and activities require environmental clearance. To categorize projects according to their nature, their physical scope, and their associated environmental conditions, two factors are considered.
A crucial component of the entire overhaul of the Central Vista was left out of the CPWD’s application for environmental clearance, salmon-slicing other parts of the project. According to the application, the physical scope was reduced, providing a lower standard of scrutiny compared to what should have been applied to the actual, larger physical extent of the project. An essential part of the concept of ‘Environmental Rule of Law’ is the concept of ‘non-regression’, according to which the state can not permit further environmental degradation unless there are strong arguments for doing so. It has been reported that the city has set record air quality levels, resulting in it being deemed the most polluted capital in the world.
A report published in August 2019 by Niti Ayog is an important indicator in understanding water management in India. Although the government cited increased environmental costs, even though the capital was in a critical state to support the project, the government failed to explain why higher environmental costs should be incurred. Concerning planning and development, the Court found the government to have the sole prerogative regarding the scope, timetable, and nature of such projects. Neither the environment nor development are inherently antagonistic.
The environment can not be a hindrance to development, and mitigation measures are necessary to achieve a balance. Constitutionally and legally, the state must strive to protect and improve the environment. The Environmental Protection Act (1986) provides that the state must do this by following Article 48A. Development principles include sustainable development, as noted in the judgment. Future generations are entitled to both the environment and development, it states.
Unlike other development projects, Central Vista is not a construction project. This project involves building and construction, according to the EIA and government understanding. Although this project has a clear objective, its scope prevents it from being able to invoke sustainable development or the right to development in its support.
Cases related to judicial review
The Supreme Court of India in L.Chandra Kumar v. Union of India (1997) laid down the facets of judicial review, stating that judges of higher courts must interpret legislation in such a way that Constitutional values are not disturbed. To do this, judges should keep in mind that the legislature passed a law that is in harmony with the Indian Constitution. Legislation is reviewed by the Supreme Court and the state’s higher courts for judicial assessment. Judicial evaluation of legislation is the final test of its constitutionality.
Shankari Prasad v. Union of India
In this case, it was decided by a six-judge panel, with five of them voting against modifying the Indian Constitution’s fundamental rights.
In the case of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala (1973), six out of seven judges concluded that Parliament had modifying power and that any part of the Constitution could be altered, overturning the Golaknath decision. The Supreme Court ruled that vital rights can not be amended in a way that affects the Constitution’s fundamental structure.
I.R. Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu
In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the constitutionally protected Ninth schedule is subject to judicial review. Furthermore, nothing in the Ninth Schedule can repeal essential rights which are required by the Constitution. In essence, Article 31B exists to alleviate issues rather than to abolish judicial review in general. The basic structural doctrine must apply to all constitution changes, including the Ninth Schedule.
In cases like L.Chandra Kumar v. Union of India and others (1997), Waman Rao and others v. Union of India and others (1981), Minerva Mills Ltd. and others v. Union of India (1980), Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narnia (1975), judicial review was considered an essential and integral part of the Indian Constitution.
P.U.C.L. v. Union of India
In the landmark case, the Indian Supreme Court held that if the legislature influences the subject matter, it has no power to ask for the instrumentality to disregard or violate the court’s decision.
J. P. Bansal v. the State of Rajasthan
The Supreme court, in this case, has assessed that the judiciary’s impartiality jeopardizes public awareness. Although the court that interprets the Constitution remains free, it has not failed to interpret the Act under this freedom. An essential element of judicial evaluation is the rule of law when the court interprets the law and provides its interpretation for modifying it. In such a case, the public interest is undermined.
Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India
The Supreme Court, in this case, has ordered the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to review all orders suspending internet services immediately, and any orders that are not in conformity with the law must be reversed. The Supreme Court ruled that under Art 19 (1) (a) and Art 19 (1) (b), the freedoms of speech and expression, as well as the freedom to practise any profession or carry on any trade, business, or occupation on the internet, are protected by the Constitution under Art 19 (1) (g).
The limitation of such fundamental rights should be by the mandate outlined in Article 19 (2) and Article 19 (6) of the Constitution, including the proportionality test. Although the doctrine of judicial review is a cornerstone of India’s Constitution, it is unjustified in policy matters. In policy considerations, however, it is justifiable if the policy is arbitrarily applied, unfair, or infringes on fundamental rights.
Fundamentally, the judicial examination of authoritative decisions is not confined to those standards that have already been established. According to the applicants, because this project is unique, guidelines should be increased expressly for it. Even the respondents required a unique approach to this project at one point. In discourse, the concept of sui generis is one thing; to accord something to a person in a legal action is quite another.
Furthermore, there is no justification for a heightened judicial examination based on a standard other than the legal standard. This is especially true when the undertaking has been accorded no special treatment by the government and has gone through the standard routes for enterprises of this sort. If the government does not deviate from recommended procedural rules, it may provide a conceptual understanding of its uniqueness. The court lacks the jurisdiction to voice its opinions on the best way to proceed with a project that the government has decided to take up, whether it is the construction of a sitting room for itself, water or electrical dams, or a school or college, and so has no right to interfere.
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