Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's dream project of building a wagon-repairing workshop in Bihar's Saran district has run into trouble as the Patna High Court issued an order against forcefully displacing the owners of the land.
A division bench comprising Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Rekha Kumari has directed authorities responsible for land acquisition not to use force to displace the owners till further orders, court officials said on Friday.
The court order, considered the first of its kind in Bihar, was in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Bhumi Bachao Kisan Sangarsh Samiti, a farmers organisation, to prevent the acquisition of agricultural land in Sonepur in Saran, some 50 km from here, by force.
The order assumes significance as it comes in the backdrop of police firing on protesting farmers in neighbouring West Bengal's Nandigram over land acquisition for a special economic zone (SEZ). The firing had claimed 14 lives.
The court also asked the railway authorities to submit a report within four weeks on the process by which the land in question was selected for acquisition.
Lalu Prasad, who represents Saran in the Lok Sabha, had announced the setting up of the wagon-repairing workshop soon after becoming railway minister. Over 100 acres of mostly fertile agricultural land was identified for the workshop in 2005.
According to the petition, the land belongs to four villages, Ismailchak, Govindpur, Chakapsaid and Chitranjanpur, under Sonepur block and the villagers were opposed to parting with their land for the project.
The PIL described the railways' decision to acquire land by displacing villagers as unreasonable, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
"The railways had selected land for acquisition belonging to marginal farmers who would be forced to turn landless labourers in the absence of any means of livelihood," the petition said.
It further said that the state government had recommended the railway ministry to set up any new project at Garhara in Begusarai district where over 2,000 acres of land lay vacant and unused.
Taking this into account, the court asked the railways why the land available in Begusarai was considered not suitable and why land elsewhere had not been selected for the construction of the railway workshop.