December 14, 2021 12:45:53 pm
Holding that the manner in which the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) evicted it from the Muskaan Park in Juhapura was “unfair”, the Gujarat High Court disposed of a petition moved by a public charitable trust which ran the park. The Society for Promoting Rationality (SPRAT) had sought damages and compensation for destruction of its property to the tune of crores by the corporation.
In 2004, the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) allotted land to SPRAT in Juhapura, so that it can be used by people of all communities as a park. The allotment was allegedly for a year, following which the park continued adding services with assistance from the AMC, AUDA, as well as grants from the MP. In 2016, eleven years after the expiry of the allotment tenure, a water connection was also approved. The petitioner claims to have privately mobilised and invested over Rs 30 lakh in the park over the years.
Without getting into the details of estimating the compensation for the petitioner’s damaged goods, Justice Biren Vaishnav instead asked the AMC to pay a token cost of Rs 25,000 to the petitioner. The petitioner was also granted the liberty to approach the appropriate court for seeking damages over the corporation’s action.
The court also noted that on account of the work done by SPRAT at Muskaan Park, they deserved better treatment from the AMC and noted that such large-scale destruction of SPRAT’s equipment and machinery at the park was “unwarranted”. “…the land was already being put to use as a garden. Though the allotment was made for a period of one year, the plot continued to remain in possession of the petitioner for over a period of 15 years though without any rightful occupation, the organization that carried out these activities deserve better treatment…the fact that the petitioner had to vacate as the Society was overstaying its tenure is evident, but the manner of eviction was unfair,” it said.
The court proposed that if the AMC plans to use the plot for gardens and if the petitioner is willing to offer its services, “the entire issue be reconsidered and a fresh allotment of the plot for usage of garden at the hands of the petitioner through a Public-Private Partnership be accordingly considered if it is possible in accordance with law by the Corporation, particularly looking to the credentials of the Society, which undertook the onerous task of using the property for encouragement of such activities.”
The case of the petitioner is that after thirteen long years of “unblemished services by the Society, in an apparent act of vendetta, a notice of eviction was issued by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation on 17.10.2017.” On receipt of such notice, a representation was made by SPRAT to consider that the petitioner had privately mobilised and invested at least Rs 35 lakh on the plot of land which was otherwise lying barren.
However, according to the petitioner, the corporation did not accept the petitioner’s credibility over usage of the plot and on 06.11.2017 asked the petitioner to vacate the plot within seven days. In January 2020, the petitioner was asked to vacate the plot again and the AMC sealed the plot by February 2020, without giving the petitioner sufficient time to vacate the plot so that it could transfer its equipment after dismantling them to another plot. By way of a notice in June this year, the corporation evicted the petitioner, bulldozed into the plot and damaged the property in question which was challenged before the high court.
The court, in its verdict, noted that though the letter of allotment specifically stated that the plot of land was reserved for gardens and was allocated to the petitioner for a period of one year, the same was effectively handed over to the petitioner in 2006 and subsequently there appeared to “be no complaint on the part of the authorities which owned the plot, as far as its usage was concerned for a period of 13 years from 2004 to 2017.”
In a statement following the verdict, SPRAT president Hasan Jowher urged the state government and the AMC to act statesmanlike, and to use SPRAT’s dedicated social services to promote rationality and popularise science across the state.
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