What Central Vista Judgment Means For Us? A Tale of Two Dissenting Khannas

central vista

The Supreme Court has finally given its nod to the Central Vista project. The apex court validated it under the DDA act, as well as, clearances from Ministry of Environment. So, fasten your seatbelts, the 1000 crore New Parliament will be ready by 75th independence day, along with the 13,000 crore Central Vista redevelopment.

New India, New Beginnings.


But, the green light has come via 2:1 verdict. The case was foreseen and analyzed by 3 Supreme Court judges: Justice Dinesh Maheshwari, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Sanjiv Khanna. One of these expressed dissent from the majority judgment.

Justice Khanna wrote: “How did the project get NOC amid lockdown in a virtual meeting that too chaired by ADG WORKS whose experience is so little!?”

He did agree with the other 2 judges on bidding invitation for the project, award of the contract & order of urban commission. But, he cited lack of public consultation. “A project of such magntitude, of national interest, must have included public participation.”

Second: “No approval was taken from Heritage Conservation Committee.”

Third: “Environmental clearance is superficial with no discussion, reasoning or conclusion.”

Justice Khanna also said that plan for the project should be put in the public domain. Yet, his opposing views will not hinder the new Parliament construction so why in the world did he bother to remark about it? Maybe, Justice Khanna could not ignore some behind-the-scene facts about the project and hence, the dissenting judgment.

But, in doing so, Justice Sanjiv Khanna repeated history, when his uncle Justice HR Khanna stood up to Indira Gandhi.

HR Khanna story

On 28th Apr 1976, Justice HR Khanna dissented against the majority judgment. He spoke out fearlessly for fundamental rights of people during the emergency. This became the infamous verdict in the ADM Jabalpur case, aka Habeas corpus. But thanks to the majority judgment, Indira Gandhi govt put the entire opposition in jail, denying them justice or liberty.

Forty years later, the Supreme Court admitted that the 1976 judgment was a mistake.

But back then, Justice HR Khanna was considered wrong. And of course, Supreme leader Indira Gandhi was not pleased with his dissent. So, by overriding the established seniority system, she denied Justice HR Khanna the post of Chief Justice of India and granted it instead to Justice Beg.

As a result, Justice Khanna resigned.

But today, we remember him as the champion who stood up against popular vote.

Similarity & difference

Like his uncle, Justice Sanjiv Khanna is in line to become the C.J.I. seniority-wise, in 2024, unless he too is overlooked.

But, Justice HR Khanna could not become C.J.I. because Justice Beg superseded him. However, Justice Sanjiv Khanna is himself junior judge as he superseded 32 judges. His immediate appointment to the apex court has been a hot topic of debate. Let’s now see whether he follows the footsteps of his uncle or not. Because that path is laden with many dangers if not more.

Recent case

Not long ago, Justice Khanna lambasted journalist Amish Devgan who was trying to quash FIRs against him in the Supreme Court. He wrote in judgment: “TV anchors owe duty to choose their words carefully.” Those FIRs were lodged against him for using derogatory remarks against Sufi Saint.

Justice Khanwilker and Justice Khanna refused to quash the FIRs. Ultimately, Amish Devgan had to apologize in writing.

What has happened in the last 3-4 years is that due to negligence by opposition and media, our expectations of Supreme Court have greatly increased. But, the apex court has asserted that they don’t intend to use judicial overeach. “We cannot be called upon to govern.” In para 420-422 of central vista judgment, the court says so clearly.

No hard feelings

Justice HR Khanna could get back at Indira Gandhi when Janta Sarkar came to power. He was offered to lead Maruti Commission of Inquiry but he declined the position. Perhaps because people would consider his judicial work thereafter less objective.

But, on the contrary, nowadays, former judges take hold of whatever political opportunities they can get. these days, 70% SC judges already have retirement gigs. Maybe, we will not have another one like Justice HR Khanna but Justice Sanjiv Khanna reminded us of his uncle with this verdict.

It shows that dissent is essential to democracy. Especially in this day and age when power hungry politicians try to destroy democratic institutions. Justice HR Khanna had written: “The SC must become all the more alert in such a situation.” Let’s hope that’s the case.

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