The "swift" action by the BMC against the alleged illegal constructions in actress Kangna Ranaut's bungalow at Pali Hill, Bandra, elicited criticism from the citizenry as well as the Bombay High Court.
The court, while staying the demolition of portions of the bungalow on Wednesday noon, said the BMC's action prima facie does not appear to be bonafide; and this was deplorable.
A bench of Justices Shahrukh Kathawalla and Riyaz Chagla further embarrassed the civic body by observing that Mumbai would be a different place if the BMC acts swiftly in numerous other illegal construction cases.
"We cannot help but mention that if the BMC would act with similar swiftness with regard to numerous unauthorized constructions in the city, it would be a completely different place to live in," Justice Kathawalla observed, while granting a day's time to the civic body to justify its action against Kangna's bungalow.
Incidentally, a four-judge bench led by the then Chief Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari had on March 26 passed an order staying all demolition and eviction notices served by civic authorities on illegal constructions across Maharashtra. The HC had passed this order in view of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. These orders have been extended from time-to-time and the latest deadline is September 30, the day till when the civic authorities across Maharashtra cannot carry out any demolition or eviction of any unauthorized structure.
The bench was petitioned by the actress through her counsel Rizwan Siddique on Wednesday morning just when the BMC commenced demolishing parts of her bungalow.
Civic officials of the H West ward arrived at Chetak Row around 10:30 AM with a bulldozer and pasted a demolition notice at the gateway. The demolition was carried out on the ground floor, the first floor and the second floor of the bungalow. The office spaces and toilets on the ground floor were demolished. On the first floor, a meeting room and a 'Pooja Room' were partially dismantled. An extended bedroom and a horizontal slab were demolished on the second floor.
Siddique told the bench that the civic body has acted in haste and had not given even seven days’ time, which was sought by his client to clarify her position in the matter.
He pointed out that by the time the bench took up the matter for hearing, the civic body had already demolished 40 per cent of the structure.
Acknowledging the "urgency," the bench orally ordered the civic body to stop the demolition work and also conveyed its orders to civic chief I S Chahal.
The BMC, which initially not represented before the bench, later appeared through senior counsel Anil Sakhre along with its officials from H Ward (Bandra).
The senior counsel told the bench that the civic body was informed about the illegal work by a ‘muqadam’ (worker) on September 5; the same day, a team of officials visited the site and after carrying out an inspection, concluded that there were numerous illegalities in the structure. He further pointed out that the civic body had pasted a notice on the bungalow on September 7 and after receiving a response from Kangna, they proceeded with the demolition.
Unimpressed with the submissions, Justice Kathawalla said, "From the material on record, it is clear beyond doubt that the works which are ‘unauthorised’ have not come up overnight. However, all of a sudden, the BMC appears to have woken up from its slumber, issued notice to Kangna, and that too when she is out of the state, directing her to respond within 24 hours; the BMC did not grant her any further time, despite written request, and proceeded to demolish the said premises upon completion of 24 hours."
"Though the manner in which the BMC proceeded to commence the demolition work of the said premises, prima facie it does not appear to be bonafide and smacks of malafide; nonetheless, we are giving an opportunity to the civic body to explain its stand or conduct on an affidavit to be filed on Wednesday," Justice Kathawalla ordered.