Lucknow : In an extraordinary sitting at 3 a.m. Tuesday, the Allahabad High Court halted Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's plan to demolish a 50- acre sports complex here to make way for expanding the Ambedkar Park and also reprimanded the government.
Responding to the agitated cries of players, employees as well as sports lovers after bulldozers arrived at the prestigious Ambedkar Sports Complex well past midnight, Justice Pradeep Kant, senior judge of the Lucknow bench of the high court, not only stayed the arbitrary act but also severely castigated the administration.
The judge created history by not only constituting a special two-judge bench around 1 a.m. but also giving the petitioners a patient hearing and issuing an interim stay at 3.30 a.m.
When the bench comprising Kant and Justice D.P. Singh met again at noon to hold a detailed hearing in the case, they were even more critical of the Mayawati administration for taking the draconian measures.
While confirming the stay and fixing July 19 for the next hearing, the court reacted sharply to the official plea that the decade-old Ambedkar Sports Complex was being razed because of certain "terrorist threats".
Justice Kant asked in an open court: "Do you mean to say that if the state Vidhan Sabha or the high court were under some kind of terrorist threat, you would decide to pull down the buildings?"
What put all top officials, summoned to the court, in a tight spot was another pointed query about the basis of the perceived threat. When additional advocate general Jaideep Mathur handed over a "classified" intelligence report for personal perusal of the bench, Justice Kant shot back: "But this is dated June 8! And if you really believe the contents then what were you doing all this while? How did the urgency arise on the midnight of July 9 and 10 that you were trying to forcibly evict all the occupants of the complex?"
The message was loud and clear when the bench declared "status quo ante", urging all evicted residents of the sports complex to feel free to return to their homes. It also ordered restoration of residential facilities to various sportspersons inside the campus and asked the administration to ensure that the complex was once again thrown open to sports enthusiasts.
The sports complex is the only one of its kind catering to a large part of modern Lucknow.
The complex hostel was until recently the home for two prominent Indian cricketers – R.P. Singh and Suresh Raina.
Apart from a highly maintained cricket ground, it includes an Olympic size swimming pool, a multi-purpose hall and a well-equipped gymnasium frequented by hundreds of enthusiasts every day. Ironically, it was built at Mayawati's own behest in 1995 and formally inaugurated by her on April 15, 1997.
Mayawati's diktat came in pursuance of her fad to expand the size of her old dream project – Ambedkar Park – built by her for a whopping Rs.1.5 billion during her second stint as chief minister in the mid-90s.
She has made a provision of Rs.3.36 billion in the recently passed annual budget in the name of building an "Ambedkar Memorial".
However, the budget gave no indication about her intention to take over the 50-acre Ambedkar Sports Complex for merger with the adjoining 108-acre Ambedkar Park to be converted into the proposed gigantic 160-acre Ambedkar Memorial.
The operation was planned at the dead of night obviously to avoid legal complications. However, the plans went awry after the common people decided to seek justice even at that unearthly hour.