The plea had paved the way for an eviction order, but before it could be carried out, the petitioner has backed off.
On the eve of the squatter-eviction drive along the Rabindra Sarobar railway tracks and also the crucial hearing of the case, environment activist and petitioner Subhas Dutta did a dramatic U-turn on Thursday.
Dutta announced that he would not proceed with the public interest litigation (PIL) that had prompted Calcutta High Court to pass the eviction order, with a November deadline.
Touting environment over eviction, Dutta said: 'Our original purpose has been served, as the water of the Lakes is free from pollution now' The eviction of settlers has resulted in a judicial stalemate because the court orders are being repeatedly flouted by the administration.'
The decision to withdraw the case, Dutta added, was to prevent the court's image from being 'tarnished further' and also not allow political parties to 'cash in' on the controversy.
The timing couldn't have been more critical, as Friday was when the eviction clock would have started ticking on the Lakes, months ahead of the Assembly elections.
After two eviction drives had flopped ' with police confronted by a human wall and turning back fearing 'widespread bloodshed' ' the high court had clearly told the railways and the state administration that the settlers along the Sarobar must be evicted between November 11 and 30.
Dutta had moved Calcutta High Court in 1997, seeking judicial intervention in putting an end to the pollution caused to the Dhakuria Lakes.
Now, the focus on Friday shifts from the battleground ' the Dhakuria rail tracks bracing for a showdown ' to the courtroom ' Calcutta High Court hearing a petition filed by the squatters, seeking a year's postponement of the eviction process.
Legal experts were clear that it was all up to the court now. 'There were over 50 hearings and the court has spent time and money on this case,' said Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, former Calcutta High Court judge, who had first heard the petition in 1997. 'Moreover, a Supreme Court ruling states that if a petitioner of a PIL withdraws, the court must appoint a person to continue the case,' Banerjee added.
Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, mayor of Calcutta and an advocate of the high court, seconded Banerjee: 'PILs involve interests of the people, so even if a petitioner dies, the case must be carried on.'
The petitioner, on his part, said he would make his position clear before the court on Friday.
The government said it had received no intimation from the railways on preparations for the eviction. 'The government will have to examine the legal position after the PIL is withdrawn,' said home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy.