Even as UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union Railways Minister Lalu Prasad are set to inaugurate the construction work of the Rail Coach Factory at Rae Bareli on Tuesday, the tug of war between Indian Railways and the Mayawati-led Uttar Pradesh government is far from over.
The controversy first erupted in October 2008 with the UP government deciding to cancel the sale of 189 hectares of government land to Railways just two days before Gandhi was slated to perform bhoomi poojan at the site. In spite of the Railways signing a 90-year lease agreement with the UP government, top sources in Rail Bhavan said that the Ministry had not given up its claim of being the being the legitimate owner of the land in the litigation which is continuing in the Allahabad High Court. “Since the court has allowed us to start work on the site, we are going ahead with the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday. This, however, is an interim arrangement since the ministry is pursuing its case for ownership of the land in question. In case, Railways win that case, this lease deed will become null and void,” a senior Railway official said.
The Railways is contesting for ownership rights of the land on the plea that the transaction between Indian Railways and the Uttar Pradesh government followed a negotiation process spanning a year wherein both the “lease” and the “outright sale” options were made available to the UP government. As per the original agreement, Railways had purchased this land from the state government for Rs 9 crore.
Railway official added that despite some of the conditions in the lease deed being unpalatable, the Ministry had signed the agreement at the behest of the Court. Keen to kickstart work at the site before the model code of conduct came into effect prior to the Lok Sabha polls, the Ministry also had a substantial investment locked up in the project. “Also, we have already invested around Rs 25 crore in the project and the works were suffering on account on the delay,” an official said.
The project had been announced during the Supplementary Demand for Grants in 2007. By roping in reputed international players to set up a joint venture company, Railways plan to procure around 840 state-of-the-art coaches annually from this new factory for a 10-year period starting 2010-11. Further, Railway ministry’s plans include getting air-conditioned double-decker coaches manufactured at this unit with the ministry eyeing procurement of atleast 20 double-decker trains, having 24 coaches each, by 2021 from this factory.