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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Preserving Pratap Vilas: CJ cites Allahabad HC order, AG cites SC’s Central Vista verdict

The court was hearing the arguments on preservation of heritage property Pratap Vilas palace in Vadodara that houses the National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR) during which the advocate general cited the January verdict of the Supreme Court greenlighting Central Vista redevelopment project.

Written by Sohini Ghosh | Ahmedabad |
Updated: February 19, 2021 6:17:52 am
Preserving Pratap Vilas: CJ cites Allahabad HC order, AG cites SC’s Central Vista verdictThe HC has granted interim relief to the petitioners, staying any further construction on the proposed building. (File Photo)

Gujarat High Court Chief Justice Vikram Nath on Thursday recollected an Allahabad High court judgment in the 1990s that had struck down a government order on construction inside a park, which continues to be the “heart and lungs” of Allahabad city.

The court was hearing the arguments on preservation of heritage property Pratap Vilas palace in Vadodara that houses the National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR) during which the advocate general cited the January verdict of the Supreme Court greenlighting Central Vista redevelopment project.

“In Allahabad, there was this Alfred Park (renamed as Chandrasekhar Azad Park)… huge area with a circumference of three kilometres, with a central library and two-three heritage constructions. The government decided to construct government offices at one end of the park. The Allahabad HC struck down that notification and all (new) constructions were demolished and that is the heart and lung of Allahabad city. Baroda also needs to protect its heart and lungs,” the Chief Justice reminisced.

The court’s anecdote came as a suggestion to the lawyer for the petitioner to refer to. Stating that the judgment delivered by Justice Ravi Dhawan dates back to the 1990s, Chief Justice Nath added to pass a copy of the judgment to advocate general Kamal Trivedi, representing the Union of India and National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR).

The judgment that Chief Justice Nath was referring to is of April 1987 in the case of Arun Kumar versus Nagar Mahapalika, Allahabad and others, wherein Justice Dhawan held that “the existence of institutions or their buildings inside the park can not be justified. The prime purpose of the park is not to be forgotten”.

“He (advocate general Trivedi) will have a difficult time answering that judgment,” Chief Justice Nath added.

Trivedi responded saying, “Now we have Central Vista (judgment of Supreme Court)… All those arguments (that may arise from the Allahabad HC judgment of Justice Dhavan) have been taken care of.”

Chief Justice Nath countered, saying, “Central Vista (judgment) has nothing to do with the lung of the city… they are only about removing the south block and north block… facts are different. Central Vista is about concrete versus concrete.”

The PIL moved by eight petitioners, including the Vadodara-based Heritage Trust, have objected the project saying a new building overlooking the 106-year-old Pratap Vilas Palace built by the Gaekwads, recognised as an ancient monument, will ruin its heritage value as well as the biodiversity surrounding it.

The HC has granted interim relief to the petitioners, staying any further construction on the proposed building.

The state government had earlier informed the court that the site has now been shifted from the initial site, which was 92 metres away from the palace, to a revised proposed site which is 321 metres away from the palace. The state government also submitted that the palace will now be preserved with a new facility for railway institute and the union government has given a budget of Rs 20 crore to refurbish the palace into a museum and a library.

It was also submitted by the advocate general that it is a gated property not open to tourists. Trivedi also submitted that provisions of the Environment Protection Act are not applicable to the said property and the woods surrounding the palace are not recognised as forests under the Forest (Conservation) Act.

However, advocate Salil Thakore, representing the petitioners submitted that the change in distance is merely “cosmetic” as the railway institute will continue to be in front of the palace and more number of trees will be cut down.

Chief Justice said, “We cannot have a blanket (rule) that no tree can be cut. If that decision is taken, development will be stalled — you can’t build roads, you can’t build buildings, you can’t have airports, terminals… If they (the government) are cutting 300 or 400 trees, I think there are guidelines that say they will have to plant ten times more trees.”

Chief Justice Nath later added that the trees situated near and around the palace are “the lungs of Vadodara”.

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