The Bombay High Court on Tuesday clarified that there was no injunction on the transfer of scientist Dr Homi Bhabha’s bungalow ‘Mehrangir’, recently auctioned by the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) for Rs 372 crore.
The state government, however, told a division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice M S Sonak that the proposal to include the bungalow in the heritage list of structures was being considered.
The central government, on the other hand, is planning to declare the bungalow a protected monument and said it was in talks with the Prime Minister’s Office for instructions. Central government’s counsel R V Desai and advocate Ravindra Lokhande told the judges that the government was “planning to keep the memories of Dr Homi Bhabha, nuclear physicist, alive.”
The government, they told the court, was in the process of exploring legal methods to declare it a monument protected under the Maharashtra Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act.
Appearing for the NCPA, senior counsel Iqbal Chagla told the court that Dr Bhabha’s memories had already been preserved at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), and Kenilworth, Peddar Road, had his plaque. “It is a private property and the process of transferring property is on a probated will,” Chagla submitted before the judges.
Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, who appeared for the buyers of the auctioned property, including Smita Godrej, told the court that there was no question of demolishing the structure. “We propose to use the property as our residence and there is no question of demolishing it,” Chinoy told the court.
A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by two employees of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and TIFR. The PIL, filed on June 13, sought immediate steps to list the iconic bungalow as a heritage structure. The ground-plus-three bungalow – 1,296.3 sq m- is located on a 1,593.3 sq m plot behind Hanging Gardens, Malabar Hill.
The public auction of the bungalow concluded on June 18, as per the provisions of the Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950.
The court was also told that an application for the transfer of the bungalow to its new buyers had already been placed before the charity commissioner.
The court said it was not inclined to pass an injunction on the process of property transfer. “The charity commissioner shall decide on the application in accordance with law,” Chief Justice Shah said.
The court, however, said, “It does not preclude the central and state governments to take necessary steps.” It also granted three weeks to the central government to take instructions and file their affidavit in reply. The next date of hearing is August 25.
Bhabha, the primary architect of India’s atomic energy programme, was also the founder of TIFR and BARC.