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Mayavati pulls land rug from under Sonia’s feet
- Allotment for railway coach factory in Rae Bareli cancelled on eve of flag-off by Congress president

Lucknow, Oct. 12: Mayavati has scrapped the land allotment for a railway coach factory in Rae Bareli just a day before Sonia Gandhi was to flag off construction.

The factory and its ancillaries would have provided jobs to 10,000 people in Sonia’s constituency, and she was to arrive tomorrow for the bhoomi pujan along with son Rahul and railway minister Lalu Prasad.

However, the principal secretary to the chief minister, Vijay Shankar Pandey, said this afternoon: “The state government has decided to cancel the acquisition of 400 acres spread over five villages in Lalganj and Dalmou blocks of Rae Bareli, where a railway coach factory was supposed to come up.”

The decision, Pandey said, was taken after Rae Bareli district magistrate (DM) Santosh Srivastava handed in a report yesterday saying local farmers were agitating against the acquisition of the land, which belongs to the Gram Sabha.

On June 12 this year, The Telegraph had reported how Mayavati had got the land registered as a Gram Sabha plot to try and stall the project. Gram Sabha land can be given away for a project only with the DM’s permission.

“The DM observed that the acquisition of the land has set off a wave of anger and may lead to a law-and-order problem,” Pandey said. “The state government will return the money (Rs 9 crore) it had received from the railway ministry. The railways may, however, look for an alternative site.”

Lalu Prasad described the state government’s decision as “anti-development” and the Congress threatened an agitation.

“This is clearly a revenge move by Mayavati against the Congress, which has been agitating against her land acquisition policies,” state Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said.

The land originally belonged to the Union agriculture ministry, sources in Mayavati’s secretariat said. It had lain mostly vacant for 30 years, barring occasional use for experimental farming, before the railway ministry proposed in February 2007 to take it over and build India’s third railway coach factory.

After Mayavati turned it into Gram Sabha land on May 30 this year, the DM, on a request from the railways, used his discretionary powers to allot the land for the factory.

The state government, however, sought a report on the land acquisition on October 3 and asked the DM to facilitate a visit by land revenue officials to get the reaction of local farmers. The visit took place on October 10 and, the following day, the DM sent his report, paving the way for the allotment to be cancelled.

State officials, however, failed to explain who were agitating against the acquisition. The Congress has denied that any agitation by farmers is going on.

It’s not clear if Sonia will still be visiting Rae Bareli tomorrow. “We don’t know if she will be cancelling the visit,” state Congress chief Joshi said, “but we have urged her to address a rally in the constituency.”

She alleged the state government was delaying all projects in Rae Bareli.

“It is sitting on requests to issue no-objection certificates for three other projects: a Hindustan Paper Mills factory, a CRPF recruiting centre and a unit for NIPR, a pharmaceutical research centre,” Joshi alleged.

The coach factory would have made 1,000 coaches a year, a railway spokesman said.

“We admit it is a huge project, but we’ll help the railways look for land elsewhere,” a principal secretary to the chief minister said.

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