The Maharashtra government on Thursday ordered the takeover of Mumbai’s Shakti Mills, exactly a year after the gangrape of a photojournalist inside the abandoned mill complex. The order issued by Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat stated that the complex, spread over 2.69 lakh sq ft in Mahalaxmi, will now be reserved for “larger public use”. The revenue department has also suggested it could be used to house a government offices’ complex.
With police probe revealing that several other incidents of sexual violence had taken place at the abandoned compound before the gangrape of the photojournalist, there were concerns about the safety threat the defunct mill posed.
Thorat’s order cites several breaches including failure to ensure maintenance and adequate security inside the mill land. “It was this failure which indirectly encouraged anti-social incidents inside the complex. It is a valid reason for declining lease renewal,” read the order cancelling the lease pact with mill’s promoters, Shree Shakti Mills Limited (SSML).
The state government, which owns the land, had entered into a lease agreement with SSML on May 23, 1951, and allotted the plot to it till October 31, 1985. However, the firm went into liquidation in 1981, and the official liquidator of the Bombay High Court took charge of the property.
Following the gangrape incident, the government on June 16 this year issued lease termination notices to the SSML and the official liquidator.
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The Revenue Department faulted SSML on six counts, besides the failure to ensure security and upkeep of the premises. It said the plot was allotted for “industrial purposes”, but since SSML went into liquidation, it has been lying unused. It further claimed that SSML had breached lease conditions by mortgaging the plot and machinery without the mandatory prior permission from government.
Non application for lease renewal, non-payment of lease rent within stipulated time were cited as other violations of the agreement. However, both the SSML and the official liquidator contested the charges. Thorat, in his capacity as Revenue Minister, assumed the responsibility of a quasi-judicial authority and heard both sides.
Ajay Podar, Director, Podar Shakti Synthetics Pvt Ltd, which has 86 per cent contributory in the SSML, had termed the state’s contentions as “misplaced and non-tenable.” In a written submission to Thorat, he argued that “one or two mishaps that took place for no fault of SSML could not tantamount to breach (of lease agreement).”
Podar further argued that since the plot had been in court’s possession since 1981, it’s non-use could not be considered as breach.