By Accommodation Times News Services
The tag of the “private forest” which was stab on the huge swath of land across the state by the government and upheld by the Bombay high court, freeing lakhs of acres for development has been removed by Supreme Court. This orders brought relief for many big developments, as at least five lakh residents and builders linked to hundreds of acres in Thane, Mulund, Bhandup, Nahur, Mahul, Borivli, Kandivli, Virar, Badlapur and Ambernath, who will also get back crores paid as fine to the state. The biggest gainer is Godrej, which can now build on 133 acres in Vikhroli.
Earlier HC had passed orders in 2008 to stab the tag, but SC Stroked down the HC order, the apex court also quashed all notices issued by the state under the Indian Forest Act of 1927 decades ago. It affects owners of almost 6.4 lakh acres in the state. The HC had also dismissed arguments by residents association that since the city’s development plan allowed the land to be used for residential and commercial construction or industrial use, it ought not to be treated as forest any longer.
The court criticized the state for “leading citizens up a garden path for several decades” and for its “active consent in permitting construction through the years” and said now, residents alone cannot be asked to bear the brunt. The state cannot be allowed to demolish the massive constructions made on it (the land) over the last half century.
After the state government delineated the 6.4 lakh acres as forest land on a 2001 plea filed by the Bombay Environment Action Group (BEAG), petitioners moved the high court. In 2008, the HC held that a show cause notice issued in the 50s and 60s under the Indian Forest Act of 1927 to various private land owners on their “forest” holdings meant that the land had to be treated as “private forest” land under the law. The notices had not become “stale” or dead merely due to passage of time, it added.
A three-judge SC bench of Justices R M Lodha, M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph allowed a bunch of appeals by Godrej & Boyce, Oberoi Constructions, a host of other developers as well as residents’ bodies affected by the HC ruling like the Hillside Residents Welfare Association from Mulund. On Thursday, it overturned the HC ruling.
The SC said the state actively permitted construction on hundreds of acres for decades and it was thus “natural for a reasonable citizen to assume that whatever actions are being taken are in accordance with law. They are now told that their investment is actually in unauthorized constructions which are liable to be demolished any time even after several decades. There is no reason why these citizens should be the only victims of such a fate”.