Dharamsala stadium back in HPCA custody

Shimla, Nov 5 (IANS) In a major jolt to the state government, the Himachal Pradesh High Court Tuesday indicted the government for forcible eviction of BJP MP Anurag Thakur-led state cricket body from the picturesque international cricket stadium in Dharamsala and ordered restoration of possession to it.

The stadium and its residential complex were taken over by the government along with other Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) properties in a midnight swoop Oct 26 over alleged irregularities in the association.

A division bench of Chief Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Kuldip Singh ordered status quo ante with respect to the cabinet decision taking over the properties.

The interim order comes on a writ petition filed by the HPCA, opposing the government decision on the ground that it was not given proper opportunity to be heard before the decision was taken.

"The orders of forcible dispossession are against law, constitutional guarantee and obligations of the state to its citizens as a person in settled possession of a premises cannot be dispossessed by an executive fiat, even though he can be stated as a trespasser," the bench observed.

"The ownership of a building is distinct than the right in the grant of lease given by the state. The state can terminate the lease, but it's no basis for forcible dispossession, for which the government has to seek appropriate remedy in law," it added.

The judges further said: "The restoration of status quo ante is no impediment for the government to proceed with the legal remedies and the opinion is only prima-facie and for considering the grant of interim relief only."

As no reply was filed, the court gave the government time till Nov 18 for filing the reply and further gave time to the petitioners to file rejoinder by Nov 25.

The court will now hear the matter Nov 28.

The government had cancelled the lease of lands given to the HPCA, then a society and now a company, and took possession of the international cricket stadium and its residential complex in Dharamsala and lands allotted to it at Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Kotkhai and Shimla towns.

The government action came after allegations against the HPCA over converting itself from a society to a company.

The state Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau in August filed a cheating and misappropriation case against the HPCA over alleged wrong-doings in allotment of land to the sports body for constructing a residential complex for the players near its stadium in Dharamsala, some 250 km from here.

The disputed land, three km from the picturesque stadium, has been used by the HPCA to build a five-star residential complex called The Pavilion, which has 38 rooms, 32 huts and a high-tech gym. The HPCA website calls it an "exotic residential resort".

Meanwhile, BJP leader and former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, welcoming the decision, said "everybody should rise above petty political consideration".

In a statement, he said his government had encouraged sports and had tried to develop basic infrastructure for that.

"We will do the same in the future also."

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