The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) along with a private trust and two societies were today imposed a cost of Rs 2 lakh each by the Bombay High Court for trying to illegally usurp two plots in suburban Juhu, reserved for open garden space. A bench of justices B R Gavai and Riyaz Chagla imposed the fine while quashing a March 2017 order of Mhada for executing a lease deed by which two plots admeasuring 2000 sq mtrs and 1687 sq yards in suburban Juhu were to be handed over to Anjuman Trust and other societies to construct residential complexes.
The court ordered for the two plots to be kept as an open garden space and said no construction can be permitted on these two plots. The bench imposed the Rs 2 lakh cost each on Mhada, Anjuman Trust, Juhuraj Society and Juhu Lifestyle society while disposing of a plea by a city-based civil society Save Open Spaces challenging the order passed by Mhada. “As it is, the city is having very few open spaces which are the lungs of the city. We have no hesitation in holding that an attempt to destroy the open spaces meant for garden with ulterior motive would be violative of the doctrine of public trust,” the court said. “We are of the considered view that Mhada ought not to have been party to such collusive and illegal act between Anjuman Trust, Juhuraj society and Juhu Lifestyle society,” the court said.
It added that the hasty manner in which the lease deeds were executed in favour of the societies by Mhada creates a great degree of suspicion. Petitioners counsel Shiraz Rustomjee argued that the plot was reserved for garden space and hence Mhada cannot allot the same to any trust to build residential societies there.
The petitions had sought the court to declare that the two plots were necessarily required to be kept as open space for garden and the lease deed executed in favour of Juhuraj society and Juhu Lifestyle society as nominees of Anjuman Trust should be quashed and set aside. The court noted that there were some errors on the part of Mhada while submitting layout plans of the Juhu area to the civic body in the year 1999. “It appears that, this error while submitting the amended layout plan, must have ignited ingenious idea in the mind of some land grabbers so as to turn this obvious error into a gold mine. The land grabbers then started making an attempt to grab these two pieces of land,” the court said.
The court also noted that despite Mhada sending a letter to BMC later to rectify the error and declare the two plots as open spaces in the layout plan, the then vice-president and CEO of Mhada S S Zende went ahead and passed an order to execute the lease deed.
“As an officer of Mhada, Zende was expected to act in a manner, which would have protected the rights of Mhada or the public at large, rather than showing the magnanimity of handing over such a precious piece of land to Anjuman trust without the state government or the Mhada getting a single rupee benefit,” the bench observed. The petitioners told the court they do not want the fine amount and the same should be donated to the State Legal Aid Fund.