Sonia Gandhi inaugurates disputed rail coach factory
The factory in Rae Bareli is equipped to produce 1,000 rail coaches annually
Virendra Nath Bhatt
After six years of wait and a protracted legal battle with the UP government later, the electorate of Rae Bareli, the Lok Sabha constituency of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, got the much awaited gift — the rail coach factory (RCF). The RCF was inaugurated by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday, 7 November. The RCF at Rae Bareli is the third such factory in India. It is meant to produce 1,000 coaches annually.
The RCF was announced during the 2006-07 Rail Budget by the then railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and the foundation of the factory was laid in February 2007. Gandhi was keen to see the construction work on the factory commence before the Parliament elections of 2009. The previous Mayawati led Bahujan Samaj Party government in UP, had however, created several obstacles and had scrapped the part of the land acquired for the factory. The issue was settled after a long legal battle at the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and the construction work commenced in mid 2010.
In an obvious reference to the obstacles created by the then Mayawati government, Gandhi said, “Many rumours were floated about the fate of the project at the time of the inauguration in 2008 that it would never materialize, but the construction work of the factory has been completed in record time and the rail coaches produced in the factory are being dedicated to the people.”
The RCF at Rae Bareli was earlier envisaged as joint venture project to be executed with the financial participation from a private investor. Later the railways decided to implement the project on its own and now the RCF is wholly owned by the railways. The RCF spread across 940 acres of land in Lalganj sub division of Rai Bareli district is about 88 km from the state capital Lucknow. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 2,500 crore and so far Rs 800 crore has been spent. Besides the compensation amount given to farmers whose land has been acquired for the project, local villagers have also been given jobs in the RCF. Gandhi on Wednesday distributed appointment letters to 14 persons.
On 18 October 2008, Gandhi was scheduled to perform the Bhoomi Poojan ceremony for the commencement of the construction work at the factory site. Two days before the ceremony, the then UP chief minister Mayawati scrapped the acquisition of the land for the project.
There were three categories of land which were acquired for the project: private land, gram sabha land and government land. While the private and gram sabha owned land had already been earmarked and notified under the Railway Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 2008, which empowers Railways to acquire land for special railway projects, only the compensation aspect remained. The district magistrate of Rae Bareli, on the instructions of the state government, cancelled the notification for the acquisition of the government and the private land saying due process was not followed and the notification issued was not as per the rules laid down in the Land Acquisition Act.
Mayawati, denying any political motive behind the cancellation of the notification, had then argued that she wanted to prevent a “Singur-like situation” in UP. “The decision has been taken to save the state from a Singur-like situation as the farmers had threatened to commit suicide if the land was given for the RCF. A law and order situation would have confronted us,” Mayawati had then argued. The UP Congress had then condemned the UP government, calling the cancellation “a mindless act of a whimsical chief minister”. The dispute was resolved after over a year long legal battle and the work commenced in mid 2010.
Virendar Nath Bhatt is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.