THE GUJARAT High Court on Wednesday directed the government authorities to halt, for the time, any further construction on the proposed multi-storey building at Raja Baug Garden in Vadodara, which overlooks the Pratap Vilas Palace, a heritage property. The direction came during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by eight petitioners, including the Vadodara-based Heritage Trust.
A division bench, led by Justice JB Pardiwala, has issued notices to the respondents, including the National Academy of Indian Railways and the Rail Vikas Nigam along with the state and central governments in the matter. The PIL is expected to be heard further on January 11.
The 106-year-old Pratap Vilas Palace houses the Railway University, where the Railway Staff College has functioned since 1952.
A decision was taken to construct a multi-storey building in the historic Raja Baug or the garden overlooking the palace to accommodate the National Rail and Transportation Institute (NRTI) and other offices. A major bone of contention for the petitioners has been that such a construction would erode the heritage value of the site as well as the property.
In September, Vadodara Lok Sabha MP Ranjan Bhatt had appealed to the Ministry of Railways on the floor of the Parliament that the NRTI building should be constructed in any other place that is owned by the Railways, and not on the heritage property.
A petitioner in the case told The India Express that a core prayer of the petitioner is that the court must direct the authorities for due diligence, especially since the Railways has several other areas where it can execute its plans. While originally the Railways had planned to shift the institute to Waghodia, the decision took a backseat due to land acquisition issues.
The petition said, “We filed RTI queries with the Vadodara Municipal Corporation and the Railway Ministry, seeking details of what due diligence has been done, but we have not received any response. We are open to dialogue and engagement but we have had no response so far.”