Bombay HC Orders Removal Of Illegal Structures At CNI Headquarters Amid Lease Dispute With Defence Department

Bombay HC Orders Removal Of Illegal Structures At CNI Headquarters Amid Lease Dispute With Defence Department

In the dispute between the Church of North India (CNI) and the defence department over the former's headquarters on Hazarimal Somani Marg near the Bombay Gymkhana, the Bombay High Court has asked the church trust to remove illegal additions made in the building before July 4.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Tuesday, June 25, 2024, 12:07 AM IST
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Bombay HC Orders Removal Of Illegal Structures At CNI Headquarters Amid Lease Dispute With Defence Department | PHOTO CREDIT: MANOJ RAMAKRISHNAN

Mumbai: In the dispute between the Church of North India (CNI) and the defence department over the former's headquarters on Hazarimal Somani Marg near the Bombay Gymkhana, the Bombay High Court has asked the church trust to remove illegal additions made in the building before July 4.

The court is hearing an appeal filed by the trust against the Bombay City and Civil Court's dismissal of its application against an eviction order by the Defence Estate Officer.

Meanwhile, the St Thomas Cathedral and another trust have filed intervention applications in the case, claiming to be the leaseholder of the land. Trustees of the St. Thomas’ Cathedral were concerned that the order of the estate office indicated their eviction. The Bombay High Court has not given its orders on the claims but has looked at the illegal structures in the latest order. Reacting to the court order, James Baker, a trustee in BDTA l, said, "It's a sub judice matter, the BDTA will follow the court directions."

The building, occupied by the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association (BDTA), and the Bombay Diocesan Council, the organisations that administer CNI properties, has been claimed by the Ministry of Defence which had leased the land to the church in the 1950s. In April 2022, the Defence Estate Office, Colaba, passed an order evicting the trust.

The land was leased out for religious purposes, but there are accusations that the lease terms were violated as the trust had rented it out for non-religious use to another party. There are also allegations that the trust added unauthorised structures without the permission of the defence authorities.

The court said, "Since there is a dispute as to who is the lessee, without going into that as of now since there are illegal constructions which need to be demolished, the Estate Officer is authorized to ensure demolition of the same with the assistance of the BMC. As these constructions have been held to be illegal, the occupants cannot also claim any right to retain them."

The court said that since the cost of demolition is not yet ascertained the petitioners and one respondent should deposit a sum of Rs.5 lakhs each. 'The expenses for demolition would be defrayed from the amount deposited by the petitioner who would be recognized by this court as the original lessee, the other person being entitled for refund.'

The dispute over the rightful holder of the lease has arisen because there are several parallel bodies, each claiming to be the authorised custodians of CNI properties. The CNI is a Protestant denomination and the Indian counterpart of the Anglican Church. The St Thomas Cathedral and another trust have also claimed to be the leaseholder.

The Charity Commissioner is hearing claims by multiple groups of CNI members, each claiming to be the authorised custodian trusts. Responding to the claims by other groups that have claimed to be the leaseholder, Baker said, "Change reports are being contested in the Charity office." Change reports are filed when a new set of trustees are appointed to a body. The Charity Commissioner's approval is needed for the recognition of a trust.

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