Observing that the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) “had completely lost sight of the doctrine of public trust”, the Bombay High Court Wednesday imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on the authority and two housing societies, and Rs 4 lakh on a trust, for colluding to build residential buildings on two plots marked as open spaces in Juhu.
“If the petitioners had not approached this Court at the right juncture, land-grabbers would have been successful in their design of converting scarce open space meant for garden into a residential complex for commercial exploitation,” said the court.
A division bench of Justice B R Gavai and Justice Riyaz Chagla set aside a MHADA order to hand over possession of the plots to Anjuman Trust to set up Juhuraj Cooperative Housing Society and Juhu Lifestyle Cooperative Housing Society. The court was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by locals, a trust formed to protect the interest of the area and an NGO, Save Open Spaces.
The petitioners had contended that the plots form mandatory open spaces in the layout and cannot be built on.
Originally, several plots in the area had been allotted to Anjuman Trust. They were to be subdivided and allotted to individuals and housing societies comprising members of the Dawoodi Bohra community.
While the two plots, measuring 2,500 sq yards and 1,687 sq yards, were earmarked as open spaces, they were shown as residential areas in a layout plan drawn up by MHADA in 1999 owing to a mistake that it later tried to rectify. The issue to decide on the usage of the plots was referred to MHADA after initial court proceedings in the matter.
Initially, the authority rejected the claims of Anjuman Trust. Later, an appeal was referred to the then CEO and Vice-President S S Zende, who on March 21, 2017, directed that the land be leased to the beneficiaries selected by the trust for the purpose of construction.
Calling the order “surprising and shocking”, Justice Gavai questioned how it could be passed overriding his predecessor’s order. “It appears that MHADA has completely lost sight of the doctrine of public trust,” he said. The court held that the cost payable by the authority could be paid by the officials responsible for such illegal action.
The court held that the orders of MHADA to take steps for executing the lease deed in favour of the beneficiary selected by Anjuman Trust and hand over the possession, with respect to the said plots, coupled with the manner in which the lease deeds were executed at a breakneck speed “create great degree of suspicion”. The court observed that an officer of MHADA was expected to act in a manner that would have protected the rights of MHADA or the public at large.