The state on Monday decided to withdraw the review petition it had filed in the forest land issue against a Supreme Court order that was in favour of the residents. The decision will bring relief to over five lakh families living in Thane, Mulund, Nahur, Vikhroli, Poisar and Malad. The state will now correct revenue records to remove these buildings as being on private forest land, confirmed a senior government official.
A press statement from the CMO said the review petition was ‘unjust’ towards people residing in around 1,066 buildings (31,268 apartments) and 45,220 slums in these area. Taking the advice of the additional solicitor general of India, the state has decided to withdraw the petition, it stated.
The revenue and forest department had in June moved the apex court, asking it to review the removal of ‘private forest’ tag to swatches of land in these area. This had come about when the Supreme Court in January had set aside a 2008 Bombay High Court judgment that had declared illegal about 5 lakh homes in Mumbai, which it said were built on forest land. The Bombay HC had ruled that their flats, some under construction and some which were being lived in for decades, were illegal, as they had been built on land which was deemed as private forest land.
Interestingly, according to residents, the Supreme Court had in October already quashed the state’s review petition as the state had failed to file changes in the review petition as order by the SC within the stipulated time. “The SC had already on October 27 as the state had not resubmitted the review petition within the stipulated time. Now, the state has to correct revenue records. It is a great relief as our fight of over nine years has finally borne fruit,” said Prakash Paddikal, president, Hillside Residents Welfare Association (HIRWA).
The problem started in 1957 when the state Forest Department issued a notice asking people across the state to prove that their land was not forest land. These notices were issued on lands totalling 2.57 lakh hectares. Those who were affected, however, argued that they did not know of the notice, and that the government itself had given them permission to build houses and even collected taxes.
Despite having issued the notice, the forest department never carried out hearings, and the revenue department did not update its land records. Commercial transactions of these lands continued, with residents paying property tax and various authorities, including the BMC, giving clearances to build.
The issue was revived in 2001 when the Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG) filed a PIL urging up-gradation of land records to stop the misuse of forest land.