The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed an interim stay on the transfer of 102 acres of land at Kanjumarg to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) for carrying out work towards the metro rail project’s metro car shed.
The order was passed on a plea filed by the Central Government claiming ownership over said portion of land.
The bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni issued the stay after granting the collector a chance to withdraw his order allotting the land under dispute and to decide on the matter only after granting an opportunity of hearing to the Centre and private parties who had approached the High Court challenging the same order.
The Court expressed on Monday that the collector’s order had not considered the pending suits, nor made any reference to it.
“Prima facie we are of the view that the matter should go to the collector, let him decide after hearing the private parties and others”, the Bench had, therefore, opined.
On Wednesday, a new fact was brought to the Court’s attention that the State had applied to acquire 102-acres of the land, which was allegedly in dispute, from one Suresh Bafna, who claimed to own a portion of land in Kanjurmarg.
The Court made it clear the State that they will have to wait for a decision of their application. The Bench also indicated that it was not inclined to let the Collector’s order remain on record.
“We will not allow this order to remain on record, it has to go,” the Court said.
“Every day there is a twist and turn in the events”, the Chief Justice remarked, as the Court proceeded to issue the order of interim stay.
Responding to the Court’s suggestion that the Collector’s order be withdrawn, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, appearing for the State, stated that he stood by submissions in favour of the collector’s order.
He proposed that the collector will hear all parties afresh and pass a fresh order on the objections raised by all the parties. In the meantime, however, he urged that the work that was ongoing on the site should continue.
Senior Advocate Dr Milind Sathe, appearing for MMRDA, seconded Kumbhakoni’s submissions that the order need not be set aside.
Dr Sathe had, during his arguments, highlighted the financial benefits of the car shed that was being constructed on the disputed plot of land. He informed the Court that if the project is stayed, the MMRDA will have to spend an additional amount on the land acquisition.
He argued that the process of possession and restoration will lead to a lot of complications if the Court directs that the premises be vacated. Hence, this should be avoided as far as possible, he contended.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh vehemently opposed this suggestion made by Kumbhakoni and suggested that the collector’s order should be set aside entirely.
He reasoned that once the order is set aside, everything that follows the order will also be set aside.
Senior Advocate Shyam Mehta, appearing for the private party, Mahesh Kumar Garodia, agreed with Singh.
His contention was that there was a suit pending before the city civil court over possession of the land and the collector had neither heard the concerned parties nor taken cognizance of the same. He added that the rightful course of action for the State government would be “to withdraw the order, vacate the premises and hear the parties afresh.”
After hearing the parties briefly on the issue of withdrawing the order and after they were clearly informed by Kumbhakoni that he will withdraw the order only conditionally, the Court deemed it best to stay the operation of the order till they finally hear all parties involved in the dispute over the plot of land.
MMRDA had transferred the land to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited, which was subsequently conducting soil testing on the land, before the dispute reached the High Court. The Court has now also restrained DMRCL from carrying out its ongoing operations on the land till the plea is finally heard.
The metro car shed was originally planned to be developed at Aarey Colony last year, which triggered widespread protest and petitions before the Bombay High Court the Supreme Court.
After the Shiv Sena led coalition Government came into power later that year, 800 acres of the Aarey area was declared as a reserved forest and the State decided to develop the Car Shed at Kanjurmarg instead.