A legal tussle between the state government and the Mafatlal Industries Limited has halted the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s expansion plans for the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan (Byculla Zoo). Even though the state government has already handed over the seven-acre plot to the BMC in January this year, zoo authorities, who had planned to construct an enclosure for hippopotamus on this plot, will now have to wait until there is clarity on the ownership of the land.
According to a notification issued by the Urban Development department in 2004 and the title certificate submitted by the legal counsel of Mafatlal Industries Limited (MIL), land measuring around 14 acres was leased out to MIL back in 1913 for a period of 99 years. In the plan of E Ward in the DP of 1991, however, half of the land amounting to around seven acres was reserved as extension to the Byculla Zoo. However, last year, MIL approached the Bombay High Court through a writ petition claiming its rights to the land.
Members of Federal and Rashmikant, legal counsel for Mafatlal Industries Limited, said that as per the terms and conditions finalised by the state government, they are entitled to the claims they have made in their plea. “While the matter is subjudice, MIL is entitled to receive the non-cash component in the form of Transfer of Development Rights and they had agreed to transfer the rights of the lands on those terms,” said a member of MIL’s legal team.
Civic officials argued that since the land belongs to collector, it should be handed over to the BMC without any costs. “We are contesting their claims since Mafatlal Industries Limited is only the lessee and the land rightfully belongs to the state government. Since the land has been reserved for public purpose, there is no reason for the BMC to pay TDR to a private company which is not even the owner of the land. Our plea is to the state government to grant us peaceful possession of the land without any costs so that we can begin work on it,” said an official from the DP department of the BMC.
The official added that the paperwork for the handover of the plot of land to the BMC had actually completed on January 7 this year.
Officials from the zoo stated that owing to legal complications, they were unable to begin work on a 4,000 square metre enclosure for the hippopotamus born in August last year. “We cannot begin the work on the expansion plans until the DP department grants us permission in writing, which cannot happen until the case has been resolved. There is still some time before we have to come up with alternate solutions as part of the expansion plans,” said a senior civic official.
Apart from the plot leased out to Mafatlal Industries Limited, the BMC has also not been able to acquire the four-acre plot which currently belongs to an ice factory. The BMC had taken up the renovation work of the Byculla zoo, a Rs 150 crore project, which was supposed to be completed by 2018. However, even as the civic body will soon increase the entry fee for the zoo, apart from the construction of the penguin enclosure and beautification of the gardens, no major work has been taken up.