A day ahead of Congress president Sonia Gandhi's visit to Rae Bareli, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on Monday ordered status quo on the land for a proposed rail coach factory to be built in her constituency that had been withdrawn by the Uttar Pradesh government.
While hearing a writ of Northern Railway (NR) and a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) of villagers of Rae Bareli, the high court ordered status quo on the land that had been acquired by the railway from the state government. The court has given a week's time to the state government to file a counter affidavit.
The Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government had late on Saturday withdrawn the 400 acres it had given for the proposed factory in Lalganj town of Rae Bareli. The factory is slated to come up on 1,200 acres of land.
Earlier in the day, Northern Railway (NR) moved the high court seeking a stay on the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to withdraw the land. Villagers and farmers of Lalganj also filed a PIL stating that the move of the state government would deprive the region of better development and job opportunities.
A division bench comprising Justice Pradeep Kant and Shabiul Hasnain, while ordering that status quo be maintained, listed the matter for further hearing Oct 22.
"The court has given a week's time to the state government to file a counter affidavit and 24 hours to the petitioners thereafter to file a rejoinder," Mohammad Arif Khan, the counsel of the petitioners, told reporters after the hearing.
Earlier, the court also summoned records related to the land and made a specific query regarding cancelling the allotment without giving proper opportunity to the petitioners.
Meanwhile, the state government, through its counsel, told the court that it will not take back possession of the land from the railway.
The railway, a few months ago, had acquired the land after paying compensation of Rs.85 million (Rs.8.5 crore), which the state government on Sunday announced it would return.
"The government also stated that it will not initiate proceedings of allotting the land to anyone else or initiate any construction work on the same," Khan added.
Gandhi's tour itinerary on Tuesday includes performing a 'Bhoomi Poojan' ceremony on the land. The Congress party has maintained a studied silence on the issue.
"She (Gandhi) will address a public meeting in Lalganj locality. Besides this, we have no information about her further programmes," state Congress spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh told reporters.
Defending the decision to cancel the land allotment, government officials had on Sunday said the step was taken after the local administration informed them about the "explosive situation" developing in the area.
"The decision was taken after Rae Bareli District Magistrate Santosh Kumar gave a report of the state of unrest among local villagers (against land acquisition for the project)," Vijay Shanker Pandey, principal secretary to the chief minister, told reporters on Sunday.
"It was also suspected that they could take extreme steps such as suicide if the land is not returned," he said.
Though the Congress has officially announced only Gandhi's visit, party sources said Railways Minister Lalu Prasad and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi could also accompany her.