February 21, 2021 12:57:02 am
Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, representing the Union of India and National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR), Saturday submitted before the Gujarat High Court that a rail institute proposed to come up at a site 300 metres from the Pratap Vilas palace in Vadodara will be designed and constructed by a private firm, which the central government “rarely” opts for.
The submissions were made before the high court, which is hearing the arguments on preservation of the 106-year-old heritage property that has housed the NAIR (formerly Railway Staff College) since 1952. Eight petitioners, including Vadodara-based Heritage Trust, have opposed the construction of the Railway University overlooking the palace citing it would ruin the former’s heritage value.
The advocate general submitted that the 53-acre Pratap Vilas property is a “gated property, not accessible to the public at large and not a tourism property and cannot be compared to usual forests, rivers, beaches etc”. It was also submitted that the palace is a “government property and not a public property such as Alfred Park in Prayagraj”.
Trivedi assured the government plans to convert the palace into a museum and open it up to the public, for which a budget of Rs 20 crore has been allocated.
The rail university, he said, in front of the palace is planned to be of an “outstanding character” with private firms planning to take up the institute’s design and construction.
“I can assure that if he (advocate for petitioners Salil Thakore) visits after this new academic block comes up, he will appreciate the effort being put in by the central government that what kind of new architecture will come in place… We could’ve done it (construction/architecture) through our own agencies, but a point was taken that no, we shouldn’t depend upon our own expertise, so far as design of the building is concerned, so far as construction is concerned. Normally the central government doesn’t give projects to outside (private) agencies, very rarely it does, which has been done in this case,” Trivedi stated.
He said the palace “is not a protected monument, and thus state and central Acts of archaeological monuments are not applicable. This is not a forest, so provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act are not applicable. Environment Impact Assessment issued in 2006, specifically covered all project constructions, so if in 2006 we had tried to construct, we could not have. Central government came out with exemption notifications in 2013 and 2015, whereby this kind of project meant for a university is totally exempt”.
The advocate general also added that while 31 hectares in Waghodia has been allocated, it is for the second phase of the university construction and the site cannot thus accommodate the first phase.
A key argument of the petitioners has been that the heritage value does not merely lie in the palace as a standalone object but the entire ecosystem around it, including the dense forestation and gardens of the palace.
The petitioners have also argued that decade-old trees serve a valuable purpose in the city and replacing them would not serve the same purpose as mature trees do.
Trivedi submitted, “Felling of trees for the proposed project will be limited to the bare minimum number of trees which will be absolutely unavoidable. Utmost consideration will be given to save maximum possible existing trees and maximum possible transplantation… For trees which are not possible to be transplanted or will not survive even after transplantation, three times more trees will be planted.”
As of today, there are approximately 2,500 trees on the whole campus, Trivedi said, adding that “the trees likely to be affected are roughly around 400-500”.
Referring to the judgment of Arun Kumar versus Mahanagar Palika, Allahabad and others of 1987, which Chief Justice Vikram Nath had first referred to on February 18 while comparing the case of Pratap Vilas to that of Alfred Park, Trivedi said the latter “was something like what we have in Parimal Garden in Ahmedabad… Facts are different where the park (Alfred Park) saw a concrete jungle inside it and it was in that regard that Allahabad HC gave some directions… Matter went up to the Supreme Court and the top court said ‘nothing doing, construction which has already come up, it can’t be given a go by like this (demolished) and perhaps the order was watered down to a great extent’.”
The matter is now expected to be heard further on Monday.
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