In a landmark order protecting the rights of private land owners, the Bombay high court on Wednesday struck down the Maharashtra government’s decision to acquire a sprawling plot of land in Powai under the Slums Act. A division bench of justices Shantanu Kemkar and Girish Kulkarni ruled that the private land owner, in this case India Cork Mills, would have the first choice to stake his claim to redevelop the plot.
“(ICL) as owner of the land has a preferential right to undertake redevelopment of the land,” said the judges. “The authorities, having failed to recognize the rights of the petitioner, the acquisition of the land under Slums Act is rendered illegal and void,” the judges said.
The court also advised the government to be careful in such cases, as an acquisition for slum rehabilitation confers various benefits on the developers. It pointed out that a large number of SRA projects in the city were languishing due to complications arising from half executed projects.
The land, spread over 9,054 square metres is located on Saki Vihar Road, Powai. Since the 1970s, the land was encroached upon by slum dwellers. In 1979, the state declared around 3,000 square metres of the plot as a slum, and the remaining was given the tag in 2011.
In December 2016, based on an application for redevelopment submitted by slum dwellers who had come together under the banner of Tarabai Nagar housing society, the government issued orders to acquire the land for a slum rehabilitation scheme.
The land owners approached the court challenging the decision. They claimed they had written numerous letters expressing their willingness to redevelop the land. The state justified its order saying the land owner had failed to redevelop the land.
“The Slum Rehabilitation Authority and state government have acted in patent disregard to the preferential rights of the petitioner to undertake redevelopment,” the bench said. The court said that permitting it “would be nothing short of conferring arbitrary powers to pick and choose lands for acquisition at the discretion of the SRA/state government.” The court further pointed out that the state had not verified the authenticity of the documents submitted by the slum dwellers seeking approval to redevelop the land.