The Uddhav Thackeray government’s move to shift the car shed of the 33.5-km long underground Colaba-Bandra-Seepz Metro corridor may breathe new life in a four-decade-old tug of war between the Centre and the state over the ownership of salt pan lands.
Chief Minister Thackeray, while announcing the scrapping of the car shed at the Aarey Milk Colony on Sunday, had declared plans to build a new one at Kanjurmarg.
The new site is a 41-acre erstwhile salt pan land, which was considered for the project even earlier but ruled out owing to legal complications and logistical hurdles, said sources.
While allotting the piece of land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) at no cost for development of the car shed on October 6, Mumbai Suburban Collector Milind Borikar’s office has taken recourse to a December 2018 order issued during the BJP-led regime by then revenue minister Chandrakant Patil – currently the state party president – over the ownership of land in Mumbai where salt is no longer cultivated.
Plots used for salt cultivation in Mumbai were earmarked as salt pan lands following a settlement survey that took place prior to 1930. As per records with the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mumbai has 5,378 acre of salt pan that were allotted to 31 salt works (six leases and 24 license holders) in 13 revenue villages.
The Centre’s Salt Commissionerate and the state government have been locked in a dispute on the ownership of these lands since February 2, 1981, when then additional Mumbai suburban collector had ruled that 29 such plots – collectively admeasuring 1,336 acre – where salt cultivation had ceased, be vested in the state government.
Since then, both sides have placed their arguments in various forums, citing various court rulings and legislations to stake claim.
Senior officials said that Patil’s order in December 2018 was issued in quasi judicial capacity while hearing a review petition by the Salt Commissionerate on a January 4, 2014 order of then suburban collector, vesting 2,978-acre of defunct salt pans in the state government. The Salt Commissionerate’s progressive appeals against the order ended when Patil ruled in the state’s favour in 2018.
While allotting the Kanjurmarg land for the car shed work, which happens to be one of the disputed lands, the government has argued that the Salt Commissionerate did not challenge the December 2018 order.
But sources indicated the possibility that the Salt Commissionerate may challenge the state’s decision now.
The Devendra Fadnavis government had earlier sent a proposal to the Centre for joint development on a 50:50 basis of developable salt pan lands. A matter pertaining to rights of leaseholders and salt cultivators on all these lands is pending in the Bombay High Court, which has ordered a status quo in the matter.
Meanwhile, politics over the announcement to scrap the Aarey car shed continued on Monday, with the BJP casting aspersions on the government’s motives.
Questioning the feasibility of relocating the car shed,
leader Kirit Somaiya cited the ongoing court matters to contend that the Kanjurmarg option was loaded with uncertainty and came with an inordinate risk of delay to the commissioning of the Metro line.
Ashish Shelar, another BJP leader, questioned the government’s motives while pointing out that the announcement had come without the commissioning of any operational or technical study for utilisation of the Kanjurmarg land. He also questioned the state’s “unilateral” move of allotting a “salt pan” land to itself.
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