The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside a 2008 Bombay High Court judgment that had declared illegal about 5 lakh homes in Mumbai, which it said were built on forest land. The Supreme Court castigated the state government for its “Rip Van Winkleism”, saying various state authorities had routinely given permissions to construct over a long period of time, and had even collected property tax.
The order will bring relief to over five lakh families living in Thane, Mulund, Bhandup, Borivali, Kandivali, Virar, Badlapur and Ambarnath. The HC had ruled that their flats, some under construction and some which were being lived in for decades, were illegal, as they had been built on land which was deemed as private forest land.
A three-member SC bench of Justices R M Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph said on Thursday, “All these appeals are allowed and the impugned judgment and order of the Bombay High Court is set aside in all of them and the notices impugned in the writ petitions in the Bombay High court are quashed.
“The facts show that the appellants followed the due legal process in making the constructions that they did and all that can be said of the state is that its Rip Van Winkleism enabled the appellants to obtain valid permissions from various authorities, from time to time, to make constructions over a long duration. The appellants and individual citizens cannot be faulted or punished for that.”
The problem started in 1957 when the state Forest Department issued a notice asking people across the state to prove that their land was not forest land.