Diana Talkies — an ‘enemy property’ on a shaky ground

BMC notice to demolish 74-yr-old structure has not been executed with owners challenging ‘enemy property’ tag in court; HC asks Centre to file reply in 4 weeks.

Written by Ruhi Bhasin | Mumbai | Published:June 27, 2017 2:26 am
Enemy Property Act, Diana Talkies Mumbai, Bombay High Court, BMC, Diana Talkies Demolition, Mumbai news, Indian Express news The loss-making cinema was shut down in the 1980s. (Below) A notice board warns people not to walk or park near the dilapidated building. (Express Photo by Ganesh Tendulkar)

A board warns passersby not to walk or park near a crumbling building that has “Diana” written across it in bold letters. Once a bustling cinema hall in Tardeo, the discoloured building is propped up by bamboo sticks and looks even more fragile as it starts to rain. According to those who own shops around the building, the cinema hall shut down more than 30 years ago. The only visible vestiges of the hall is the box office and a manager’s cabin that can be seen from the broken front of the structure, which has vegetation growing out of it and tarpaulin spread within. Poddar Infraventures Limited, owners of the decrepit structure, are now torn between the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that has issued a demolition notice to the dilapidated structure and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that had earlier declared it an enemy property.

The petitioners have, hence, approached the Bombay High Court seeking intervention. Sunil Shah, who owns Diamond Sales Corporation next to the talkies, says the single screen cinema, which was one of the affordable ones in the vicinity, was originally owned by a Parsi family, which also owned other cinemas around the area. “Diana Talkies was later sold to a Gujarati person, I think. The building has been lying unused for years. Parts of it have crumbled but no one cares,” he added. On April 10, 2017, the BMC had issued a demolition notice to the present owners, Poddar Infraventures Limited, owing to the dilapidated condition of the 74-year-old building, which could be a “threat to life and property in the surrounding area”. The demolition has not been carried out due to an ongoing case relating to Diana Talkies over a 2013 show cause notice issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the present property owners under the Enemy Property Act asking why the transfer of lease of the property from a trust to them should not be termed “void”. According to the Centre, a fourth of the property belongs to “an enemy”, a Pakistani beneficiary of the trust from whom the petitioner had purchased it.

The present owners have challenged the terming of the structure as an “enemy property”. They have argued that the property belonged to the trust and the beneficiary had only a right to the income. While the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Act might mean more trouble for the property, according to the petition filed by Poddar Infraventures Limited, “the provisions of Enemy Property Act and the Amendment Act do not apply to the present case”. Recently, hearing the matter, a bench headed by Chief Justice Manjula Chellur took note of the fact that the Joint Secretary Home Affairs was supposed to have passed an order deciding the fate of the cinema hall after hearing the petition in 2015. But it is yet to be done. “The present problem seems to have arisen on account of a notice issued by BMC. Though the Union of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, the Custodian were directed to file a reply, they are seeking time. It is clear by an order of May 4, 2017, that the BMC can proceed in accordance to law based on the notice issued by them,” the court said.

The court further held that the petitioner would not be liable for non-compliance of the notice “since the petitioners cannot take further course of action on its own because of the pendency of the litigation”. It has granted the Union of India four weeks to file a reply in this matter. According to the petition filed by Poddar Infraventures Limited, which seeks quashing of the show cause notice issued by the ministry: “One Eileen Jamshedji Petit and others were originally owners of Diana Talkies property. Sometime in 1942 the Diana Talkies building was constructed.” By a registered declaration of the trust dated May 20, 1943, made by Jehangir Shapoorji Bhavangri, Aimai Jehangirji Bhavangri and Shapoorji Jehangirji Bhavangri, the Diana Talkies Trust was set up as a private trust with Bai Freni, Bai Dinabai and Bai Dhunabai as beneficiaries. Bai Dhunabai who got married after Independence went to Pakistan.

Under provisions of the Enemy Property Act, the trustees of Diana Talkies Trust were required to deposit the income coming of the share of Dhunabai with the custodian, who was entitled to one-fourth share in the property. The cinema house had to be shut down in the 1980s owing to the loss it was making. Unable to maintain the building, the trust started exploring the possibility of selling the building. In February 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding was executed between the petitioner and the trustees in which the trustees agreed to assign the premises to the petitioner. The trustees informed the custodian about the same. According to the petition, the custodian then sought the legal opinion of the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Law and Justice, and was informed that “the Custodian is only entitled to the income component of the corpus”.

The petitioner was then given a no-objection certificate by the custodian and the proceed of the one-fourth share of the premises were regularly deposited with the custodian. After Bai Dhunabai passed away in October 2007, the entire corpus belonging to her was handed over to the custodian. In 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs, however, issued a notice to the petitioners under provisions of the Enemy Property Act. The petitioners then approached the High Court, which ordered for status-quo to be maintained and asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to take a decision in the matter in 2015.

Thereafter, several reminders have been sent to the ministry to take a decision in the matter. In April this year, the BMC notice added to the problems surrounding the property. The petitioners claim that they informed the ministry about the BMC notice thereafter seeking for the authority to decide on the showcause notice. “The Diana Talkies building is an old dilapidated structure constructed in the year 1942. The dilapidated and ruinous condition of Diana Talkies building poses threat to life and property,” the notice issued by the BMC stated. With its fate yet to be decided, the decrepit Diana Talkies gets ready to brave yet another onslaught of monsoon in Mumbai.

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