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Bombay HC directs collector to rebuild fisherfolk’s crematorium at Malad’s Erangal beach

The Bombay High Court also set aside the minutes of a September 13 Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority meeting, its order refusing permission for the crematorium and imposed Rs 1 lakh cost to the petitioner to be paid to the fisherfolk community.

The Bombay High Court orders reconstruction of unlawfully demolished Hindu crematorium at Erangal Beach. (FILE)

The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Mumbai Suburban district collector to take immediate steps to reconstruct or repair within one month an unlawfully demolished Hindu crematorium at Erangal Beach in Malad (West) that was used by the fishing community.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav J Jamdar dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) that had challenged the construction of the crematorium saying it violated Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules, and asked authorities to recover the cost of repair or reconstruction from the petitioner, Chetan Kodarlal Vyas.

The court also set aside the minutes of a September 13 Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) meeting, its order refusing permission for the crematorium and imposed Rs 1 lakh cost to the petitioner to be paid to the fisherfolk community.

The bench, while reserving its verdict on September 21, had questioned the Mumbai Suburban district collector for demolishing the crematorium and wondered if the collector, who had acted without following due process of law, was “so naïve” despite being aware of the laws and regulations.

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The court had made oral observations after it was informed that Collector Nidhi Choudhari was merely following orders of the MCZMA to undertake demolition.

On September 19, the bench observed that the “court’s machinery was abused to remove the crematorium. The bench had noted that an order for inspection of the said structure was obtained through another bench in October last year when the Chief Justice was not in town, however the same intended the due procedure, including issuance of show-cause notice, be followed.”

After the court was told by Additional Government Pleader Abhay Patki that the collector was merely following MCZMA’s order, the bench said that she could have at least informed the Authority that a show-cause notice was required to be issued.

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The bench had noted that in another matter, the high court had directed the same collector to take action against structures that violated the height restrictions near the airport. The bench referred to a PIL wherein the suburban collector was asked to take action against structures around Mumbai airport that flouted height norms and said that a different approach was taken by her in that matter.

The court also pulled up MCZMA for issuing a letter seeking action against the crematorium without due process. “Why should the MCZMA write all this demanding action? You could have asked them to carry out an inquiry. Is it not the duty of the MCZMA as custodian authority to first depute an officer to inquire?” the court said.

The bench perused a death register submitted by the BMC lawyer, which showed that the said crematorium was in existence prior to the CRZ notification of 1991 (that mandated MCZMA clearance for constructions in the CRZ area) coming into force. It noted that there were two cremations conducted there on December 25, 1990, and February 16, 1991, and the same showed it was there before the notification.

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The bench had said it felt the court too was at fault in the present case.

First published on: 29-09-2022 at 05:06:51 pm
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