Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Wednesday accepted a writ petition on an abnormal delay in completing a World Bank-funded road project in a prominent apple belt here but excluded the petitioner from the case as he was a former BJP minister.
"We deem it proper to take suo motu cognizance and treat the petition as public interest litigation by keeping the writ petitioner (Narender Bragta, horticulture minister in the previous BJP government) out of picture," a division bench of Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan observed.
Bragta has sought directions to the state government to complete the construction of the 80-km long Theog-Kotkhai-Hatkoti-Rohru stretch efficiently and properly within the stipulated timeframe before June 1, 2016.
To ensure that the construction of the work is properly and efficiently executed, the bench constituted a committee headed by the chief secretary.
It directed the committee to monitor the progress of the work and submit its separate status reports on each and every hearing.
While directing the state to file the present status report and the affidavits/replies within two weeks, the court listed the matter for next hearing Dec 17.
"We cannot be oblivious to the fact that the road is really an important one and is the lifeline for large public residing in the area concerned. Therefore, it becomes the duty of the state and the said contractor to complete the construction of the road and bridges as early as possible," said the court.
"It's also the duty of the courts to ensure that public interests are protected and grievances are redressed."
During the hearing, Advocate General Shrawan Dogra argued that the petitioner had publicly proclaimed and declared that the BJP would not sit idle and take the issue to the court. Therefore, the petition was outcome of political considerations.
Counsel for the petitioner said Bragta has filed the writ petition in two capacities -- one in his personal capacity being the permanent resident of the area, and secondly being an ex-minister -- and also concerned with the welfare of the poor public of the area.
Official sources told IANS that the road project was earlier awarded to a Chinese firm. But it missed its deadline, following which an Indian contractor was hired.
The main opposition BJP has been blaming the ruling Congress for abnormal delay in the completion of the stretch, the lifeline for Shimla's prominent apple belt which carries out annual business worth Rs.1,000 crore.
Last month, Bragta carried out a six-day 120-km-long 'padyatra' or protest march from Rohru to Shimla town, submitted a memorandum to Governor Urmila Singh and filed a petition in the high court to highlight the cause.