The Bombay High Court has passed severe strictures on the Mumbai suburban district collector over his decision to transfer 102-acre Kanjurmarg salt pan land for the Metro car shed project, observing that the order “borders on committing fraud on power”, was “perverse” and showed “serious flaw” in the decision-making process.
“It seems to be clear that there has been a change in policy with change in the ruling dispensation in the state. While changes can be effected keeping in mind what the larger public interest warrants, extraneous considerations ought not to outweigh all other considerations of propriety, legality and fairness in administrative action,” Chief Justice Dipankar Datta said in the 24-page order passed on Wednesday and made available on Thursday.
The bench added, “We are conscious of the element of public interest involved in setting up of the Metro car shed on the subject land; at the same time, we cannot remain oblivious if a person is divested of its/his right in property without the authority of law.”
Pulling up the collector, the HC said, “We do not wish to be harsh at this stage because all the materials are yet to be placed before us, but cannot desist from observing that the collector’s action of passing the impugned order in the manner he did does border on committing a fraud on power.”
On October 11, while scrapping the car shed project at Aarey Milk Colony, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said that it would now instead come up on the salt pan land at Kanjurmarg. The ruling Shiv Sena had touted the move as a major achievement, claiming that it had saved the vital green space in Aarey for Mumbai and its future generations.
Subsequently, the Mumbai suburban district collector had ordered the transfer of the Kanjurmarg salt pan land on October 1 to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). However, the Union government as well as private petitioners had challenged the move.
On Wednesday, the HC stayed the move 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 and all the parties needed to be heard and claims settled before the car shed work could commence.
Besides the Centre, Maheshkumar Garodia of real estate firm Garodia Group 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. Garodia claimed that he was lessee of nearly 500 acre of Kanjur village, where the salt pan is located.
In view of this, the HC had said on Wednesday, “What is revealed from the materials on record is dispossession of parties interested in a property not by procedure known to law, but by an executive fiat. The collector has treated the subject land as the property of the state government and allowed possession thereof to be taken by the MMRDA by referring to certain notifications/resolutions, without giving any opportunity either to the central government or to petitioner Garodia.”
It added: “In a society where rule of law has primacy, the minimum that we expect of a responsible office as the collector is to adopt a fair, reasonable and impartial approach. That is unfortunately lacking in the present case.”
Moreover, the bench said that it was “aghast” that while a civil application filed by the state government in 2016 for the 102-acre Kanjurmarg land has been pending, the collector, “on his own and without waiting outcome of such application”, passed the impugned order and delivered its possession to MMRDA. “We, thus, see no reason as to how during its pendency the collector could pass such an order,” it added.
Observing that the collector failed to consider relevant evidence while passing the order, the HC said, “Non-consideration of evidence that was relevant, material and germane is a serious flaw in the decision-making process, vitiating the impugned order and rendering it perverse.”
The court will hear all pleas seeking claims over the land in February, 2021.
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