A slum redevelopment project in a prime locality in Worli that had been stalled for around two decades will finally take off. In a relief to around 100 families residing on the 17,000-odd sq ft land near Worli seaface for over half a century, the Bombay high courtrecently struck down an order of the high powered committee (HPC) cancelling the redevelopment project that was initially sanctioned in 1999.
“The record reveals that about 47 slum dwellers have vacated their respective structures and have shifted to the transit accommodation or alternatively to the accommodations taken by them on rental basis on the money provided by developer. The developer has started demolition of the slum structures,” said a division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Sadhana Jadhav. “Though initially the scheme was sanctioned in the year 1999, no progress was made and the slum-dwellers could not be rehabilitated for one or the other reasons including the obstruction (by persons claiming to lease rights to the property). In our view, the slum-dwellers should not continue to stay in unhygienic and inhuman conditions,” said the judges. The bench directed the CEO of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority to take necessary steps for the redevelopment of the land.
The legal dispute followed claims by the family of one Lulu Vas who had paid for the lease of the 1,583 sq mtr land, Sagar Vihar Nagar, in 1945. There were already around 70 slum structures on the land in 1945, which kept increasing till 1971 when the plot came under the Slum Act. Vas died in Switzerland in 1997. Two years later, the SRA approved a rehabilitation project to be constructed by Samudra Real Estate, which had support of 70% of the slum-dwellers. In 2008, one Shailesh Chedda claimed he was given the power of attorney by Vas’s legal heirs who had staked a claim to the property. In 2011, the HPC cancelled redevelopment project based on this claim.
The high court said that the HPC had no jurisdiction to decide the title of the land or decide the issue of the lease. The bench said that in the light of provisions of the Slum Act, the slum dwellers were protected and could not be evicted from the plot. Nor could an objection be raised over the redevelopment of the land. The court pointed out that the issue of whether the Vas family was entitled to the lease of the plot was pending before the civil court and even if they won, at the most as per the provisions they would get a premium in lieu of the redevelopment. The question of the lease was also to be decided as BMC had never signed a contract with Vas and in fact in 2015 had cancelled the lease.