In a major setback to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government, the Bombay High Court passed an interim order Wednesday, staying the October 1 order by Mumbai Suburban District Collector that transferred 102 acres of land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to build a Metro car shed. The HC was hearing a petition filed by the Centre, which has claimed the land belonged to it.
On Wednesday, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni passed the order after it ‘prima facie’ observed that the operation of the Collector’s order cannot be allowed to continue as there were multiple claims over the land in question and all the parties need to be given a hearing and claims settled before the Metro car shed work commenced.
The HC on Wednesday noted that an “interesting fact” was brought to its notice that the state government had applied for 102 acres of land for the shed earlier in a case of Suresh Bafna, who owns a portion of the land in Kanjurmarg.
“This is an interesting fact subject to correction. In one case, your Collector had sought direction from the court to use 102 acres of land for a Metro car shed. Then why is the Collector passing another order when it is already before the consideration of the court,” the court asked.
It added that it would hear this case along with the Centre’s plea on the said land in February and asked the state to stop work
on the project. “You must await the decision of that application. After looking at the maps, we feel it is the same plot. Every day there is a twist and turn in the events,” CJ Datta remarked. “We cannot allow the Collector’s October 1 order to continue, the order has to go. We are admitting the Centre’s petition and granting interim relief,” the court noted.
The court restrained the state from carrying out its ongoing operations on the land till further orders. The case will be heard next in February 2021.
The father-son duo of Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray had made the scrapping of the Metro car shed in Aarey Milk Colony, one of the last vestiges of green spaces in space-starved Mumbai, an election issue in the run up to the Maharashtra Assembly elections in 2019. After taking over as Chief Minister, Thackeray on October 11 this year had announced the scrapping of the ongoing car shed at Aarey Milk Colony and said the project would instead come up on salt pan land at Kanjurmarg. The Sena had touted the move as a major achievement claiming that it had saved the vital green space in Aarey for the city and future generations.
Subsequently, the state government, through the Collector, had ordered transfer of the Kanjurmarg salt pan land on October 1. It was handed over to MMRDA on October 6 which transferred the land to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited (DMRCL), which will build the car shed, on October 8. The move was, however, challenged by the central government through a writ plea, filed through the deputy salt commissioner laying claim to the ownership over the said land parcel.
After the Centre’s petition Maheshkumar Garodia of Garodia Group, a real estate firm, had also challenged the Collector’s order in the HC claiming that a suit was pending before the city civil court over possession of the land and the order was passed without taking cognizance of the same, and did not hear all parties involved. Garodia claimed that he was lessee of nearly 500-acre land in Kanjur village.
With all these claims the HC on Monday had asked the Maharashtra government to consider whether the Collector could withdraw the order transferring the land to MMRDA.
On Wednesday Advocate General Kumbhakoni, appearing for the state, said that while the state government stood by the Collector’s order it was open to withdrawing the order provided MMRDA did not have to physically withdraw from the said land parcel. The state government said it was still open to suggestions from the parties in the case and the Collector would give them a hearing.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the Centre, opposed this and said the bench should set aside the Collector’s order. Singh said the state should not be given the opportunity to hear the parties afresh as the land belonged to the Centre.
Thereafter, senior advocate Shyam Mehta, representing Garodia, said that a city civil court which asked to maintain status quo on the said land was in his client’s favour and, therefore, the state government could not claim the land pending hearing of the suit. Mehta submitted that the land was reserved for low-cost housing and an application was made by private developer Shapoorji Pallonji to construct thousands of affordable homes. Therefore, he said, it cannot be transferred for the Metro project.
On Wednesday, Mehta submitted that the state government was required to withdraw the order, vacate the premises and then hear the parties afresh.
After the HC order the BJP took on the MVA government with former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had pushed for the construction of the Metro car shed at Aarey, saying that the government needed to set aside its ego and resume the Metro car shed work at the original site Aarey Colony.
“The state government should accept its mistake and without getting into prestige battle start work of Metro car shed at Aarey Colony,” Fadnavis said.
After the HC order, leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government put up a united front to defend the state government’s decision and criticised the BJP for creating hurdles. The leaders said that the government would decide further course of action after getting the detailed HC order. “We await the detailed written order to decide the future course of action,” said Aaditya Thackeray, Minister for Environment.
Terming the HC’s stay order as unfortunate, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the BJP and central government have been deliberately creating hurdles in the various development works in the state in the last one year. “As per the instructions of Union minister Piyush Goyal, his department had written a letter to the salt commissioner in July stating to start the process for allotment of Kanjurmarg to the state government. Now, all of a sudden, the central government has changed its stance, on the behest of BJP leaders from the state, in HC to halt the project,” said Sawant.
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