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Preservation of property, ecology taken care of’: HC dismisses PIL

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking the court’s direction to restrain the Railways from constructing a four-storey National Rail and Transportation Institute (NRTI) and other offices within the premises of the 106-year-old Pratap Vilas Palace in Vadodara. In its verdict, a division bench of the high court held […]


June 16, 2021 4:49:13 am
Pratap Vilas Palace houses the Railway University, where the Railway Staff College was functioning since 1952. (Express Photo)

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking the court’s direction to restrain the Railways from constructing a four-storey National Rail and Transportation Institute (NRTI) and other offices within the premises of the 106-year-old Pratap Vilas Palace in Vadodara.

In its verdict, a division bench of the high court held that the primary reliefs of preservation of the heritage property and the ecology, is already being taken care of by the government and rail authorities.

Pratap Vilas Palace houses the Railway University, where the Railway Staff College was functioning since 1952. Phase 1 of NRTI is planned in a new campus, metres away from the palace as a multi-storey building, and Phase 2 is planned at Waghodia in Vadodara.

In September 2020, Vadodara Lok Sabha MP Ranjan Bhatt had appealed on the floor of the Parliament to the Ministry of Railways that the NRTI building should be constructed in any other place that is owned by the Railways, and not on the heritage property.

The construction was opposed by Vadodara-based Heritage Trust and seven of its members via the PIL moved in September 2020. The HC granted a stay on the construction in December that is now vacated.

In the verdict by the bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Ashutosh Shastri, it was noted that although the new building was initially proposed at a distance of 56 feet from the Pratap Vilas Palace, it was shifted to a distance of 321 feet, that is, 265 feet further away.

“This would leave the front area also known as Raja Baug completely untouched and the distance of 321 feet would not in any manner cause any obstruction to the view of the Pratap Vilas Palace… The design of the building is such that it will not at all lower the majestic view of the Pratap Vilas Palace..,” the judgment notes.

The petitioner Trust also raised the issue of axing the trees in and around the palace campus. The central government, through AG Trivedi, had submitted that trees will be transplanted and more would be planted.

The court observed, “The commitment of the respondents (Central government, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited and NAIR)… to disturb the trees to the minimum and whatever trees are to be shifted or removed, would be mostly transplanted and those which cannot be transplanted, three times their number would be freshly planted… they would be additionally planting 800 trees within the campus…”

The petitioner Trust had also argued that the new NRTI building may further damage the ecological balance of the area visited by migratory birds. The bench, however, said that this ground cannot be accepted “for the reason that the area of the entire campus is so huge that a new building for the new academic block would only be covering a very small portion… the migratory birds would still have enough greenery and trees…”

On petitioners’ appeal to take all steps to protect and preserve the palace and its precincts, the bench noted that the same has been “well taken care of in the master plan”.

“There is an allocation of Rs 20 crore for refurbishing and preserving the building of the Pratap Vilas Palace. This will not only enhance the existing structure but also strengthen it for a long life. Thus, this relief also is a commitment… by allocating Rs 20 crore for the purpose of maintenance and protection of the building…,” the verdict noted.

The court added, “The construction of the new academic block building in no manner damages or affects the building of Pratap Vilas Palace… If the Railways has lands available with it and it may only require expenditure to be incurred for construction of the building, a huge amount of money could be saved. Further delay in any project… would result in unnecessary additional burden on the State Exchequer or the Indian Railways which is an integral part of the State.”

The request of advocate Salil Thakore representing the petitioners, to stay the verdict by a period of six weeks, was also denied by the bench on Tuesday.

 

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