21 Jun 2023 8:35 AM GMT
The Calcutta High Court today directed the State of West Bengal and its Transport department to form a committee to examine, and submit a report as to how Tram services can be "restored, maintained and preserved" in the city of Kolkata.The Bench comprising Chief Justice Sivagnaman and Justice Ajay Kumar Gupta passed the order in a PIL for preservation of remaining stretches of tram railways...
The Calcutta High Court today directed the State of West Bengal and its Transport department to form a committee to examine, and submit a report as to how Tram services can be "restored, maintained and preserved" in the city of Kolkata.
The Bench comprising Chief Justice Sivagnaman and Justice Ajay Kumar Gupta passed the order in a PIL for preservation of remaining stretches of tram railways in the city from being sold off or demolished.
The bench asked the State to not treat such a litigation as adversarial and ordered that the Committee be constituted comprising relevant government officials, tram-enthusiasts among Kolkata’s citizens, Non-Governmental organisations and experts in the field of conservation of heritage, with “independent minds”.
“We find that those who have taken a decision to stop the tram services or restrict operations…have not taken a broader view…it is an undisputed fact that trams in Kolkata are part of its heritage…respondents being a welfare State must preserve heritage for not only present enjoyment…but to preserve the same for posterity…when public of Calcutta are very proud that Durga Puja festival has been given heritage tag by UNESCO, equally they should be proud to have the tram services restored, maintained and operated efficiently in Kolkata.”
While the Chief Justice acknowledged that expenses would have to be made in order to effect such restoration, he added:
“The people of Calcutta are very passionate about trams…it is an iconic symbol…like yellow taxis…elsewhere in the world where there are such trams they have been replaced by new cars with latest technology…it you want to pursue, the State can definitely do it…for expenditure purposes if the entire stretch cannot be covered then at least the major routes…in fact on Red Road, where we travel, if there was a tram facility...it will be a great tourist attraction…all the people have got now are Chariots…now the horses are already before the Court…for rehabilitation…serious thought is needed.”
The petitioner-Advocate contended that the Tram Railway System is the Heritage of Kolkata due to its long-standing identity being ingrained with the soul of the City, and while the total sanctioned strength of the tramways was more than 116 kilometers, the present strength was only 33.04 kilometers due to closure and dismantling of tracks for sale by the State. Thus, to prevent further restriction and closure of the heritage tramways, the petitioners prayed for the Court’s directions.
During the hearing, Court expressed surprise that substantial assets used in tramways were sold to private parties. "….not clear as to what happened to the funds realised….admittedly the properties of tramways were of a wholly owned government organisation…if such assets of a public character are to be disposed of, a serious thought process is required….until it is clear that such land owned by the public sector is not required for any public purpose, only then these properties may be put up for auction [to private parties],” the bench orally remarked.
The Court also noted that as submitted by Advocate General S.N. Mookherjee, the State of West Bengal does not have a definitive policy dealing with tramways and their heritage status.
Finally it observed, “…duty of the state to preserve heritage…can take judicial notice of the fact the State is preserving several heritage structures already…therefore tram services should not be totally effaced or disbanded in the city of Kolkata…furthermore tram sheds and depots are required for effective functioning of tram services. Therefore, the respondents are restrained from selling…any of the properties of the [tramways in Kolkata] until further orders…”
Coram: Chief Justice Sivagnaman and Justice Ajay Kumar Gupta
Case: Sulagna Mukherjee v State of West Bengal & Ors WPO(P)/12/2022