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A senior judge who had been offered an apartment in the highrise proposed to be built for Bombay High Court judges’ in Oshiwara may now lose his membership. The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) — which is to build the highrise — has kept the membership it granted to Justice Abhay Thipsay in abeyance, after it was found that he already owned a share in an ancestral property. MHADA officials said this had been “overlooked” while granting the membership. A proposal for its rejection is now being formulated, sources said.
The Indian Express had earlier reported how Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had sanctioned an exclusive housing scheme for serving HC judges over a 32,300-square feet public land in Oshiwara, where an affordable housing scheme for the middle income segments had been planned earlier. Under it, the MHADA will build 84 homes, each of 1,076-sqft carpet area, to be allotted to the judges on ownership. The government has so far approved membership of 39 judges in the society. Documents accessed under the Right to Information Act show that Justice Thipsay’s membership had been approved on August 19, 2016. The judge retired from service on March 9, 2017. Government sources admitted that the entire episode raises questions over the process to decide the eligibility.
According to information, a private complaint in November last year had objected to the grant of the membership to Justice Thipsay, which prompted MHADA to review his membership. The objection had been raised on the grounds that the judge already owned a share in a private property in Khar. A MHADA-built tenement is out of bounds for people if they, their spouse or their minor children already own a house, a flat, or a residential plot in the same municipal limit.
Confirming that he had received an intimation from the MHADA regarding the staying of his membership, Justice Thipsay, told The Indian Express: “While submitting my application for membership to the society (on June 30, 2016), I had disclosed to both the MHADA and the promoters of the proposed society about the inheritance of 25 per cent stake in an ancestral property, Smruti, in Khar, which was originally owned by my mother. After my mother’s demise, the property came to be devolved upon me, my father, and my three siblings. After my father passed away, his undivided share was also devolved upon me and the siblings.”
“The property is owned jointly and is undivided. My share in the property has neither been identified or defined. Further, there are tenants who occupy 40 per cent portion of the property,” the judge added, pointing out that this had been disclosed in his application for membership.
While the judge lived in his official residence till his retirement, his family now lives on the third floor of the Khar building. He added, “There is no flat or residential accommodation exclusively owned by me or by my spouse.” Stating that he had not taken any concessional benefit from the government during his service, Justice Thipsay added, “I cannot afford to purchase a suitable flat at market value considering the high cost of such flats in Mumbai. Therefore I’d applied for membership to the proposed society.”
“No objection was raised at when In applied. But now the same submissions and declarations I’d made are being cited to raise objections over the membership,” said the judge.
Admitting that disclosures by the judge about the inheritance of the property had been “overlooked”, a senior MHADA official requesting anonymity said that the officials concerned had been “reprimanded for the serious lapse.”On December 14, 2017, the MHADA first wrote to Thipsay regarding the deficiency. The judge replied on March 10, 2017, a day after his retirement.
While claiming that he was willing to forego the membership, the judge told The Indian Express that he has contested the argument that he wasn’t a “bonafide applicant.”
“The question that needs to be decided at the higher level is whether a jointly-owned property fits in the definition of ‘ownership’ as defined in (MHADA’s) regulations for deciding the eligibility of an application. The definition must be limited to individually and singularly owned properties. It is unfair if all those jointly holding stakes in a property are debarred from applying for a MHADA tenement.”
The judge said he had held a meeting with this regard in April with the then MHADA Vice President Sambhaji Zende, upon the latter’s invitation. But officials said his grounds could not be accepted, as they would set a “precedent” for all past and future allotments under MHADA.
The judge said, “While applying for membership to the society, I was advised by some to dispose of or gift my share in the Khar property to a relative, but I chose not to hide the information. In the past, there have been cases where a person has bagged multiple allotments from the government by simply gifting or not disclosing his first allotment. But it would have been wrong to adopt such a route.”