Officials concerned didn’t ‘apply their mind’ while granting permissions for Villa Nirmala, says court
The Bombay High Court has put a question mark on the future of a proposed highrise around the Carmichael Road area in South Bombay, observing that authorities had clearly not ‘applied their mind’ and taken all the facts into account before granting necessary permissions to the developer.
The issue pertains to an over half-an-acre bungalow known as Villa Nirmala – originally owned by Shrimant Khanderao Shivajirao Gaekwad of the erstwhile Baroda Princely Estate. The current controversy ranges from the period when Gaekwad inducted two families as tenants/owners – Nityanand Wagle and Taru Lalvani. The deal and permissions were finalised around 2010-2011, and the bungalow was demolished in 2014. As per newspaper reports from September 2010, the deal was in the range of Rs 250-300 crore.
A division bench of Justices Shantanu Kemkar and Nitin Sambre, in a judgment on October 19, observed that the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had “not applied their mind” to various crucial aspects of the case while granting permissions to the developer to construct a high-rise in place of the bungalow.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by four petitioners from the area – a one housing society and members of three different societies. The challenge to the project was mainly with respect to these points – whether it fell within the declared ‘heritage precinct’ area; location of the bungalow with respect to the width of the road abutting; was it a MHADA cessed property or not and whether Wagle and Lalvani were the owners of the property or were still tenants etc.
Gaekwad inducted Wagle and Lalvani as tenants, but later, in 1975, is said to have sold the property to the duo, after a deal with Mahindra Corporation did not materialise. The case ultimately went to court and the parties settlement terms, after showing that Wagle and Lalvani had assigned their tenancy rights to one Kashimpuria and Bhalgat.
The petitioners argued that road abutting the bungalow was ML Dahanukar Marg and not Salebhai Karimji Barodawala Street, based on which the permissions were granted to the developer RA Realty Ventures LLP. The argument was that since ML Dahanukar Marg was less than 18 mtrs wide, a building 69.95 mtrs high (the project) could not have been allowed at all. The argument that it was a heritage precinct meant that the process of granting clearance would change completely and the building’s height would be restricted drastically.
MHADA, BMC and the developer justified the permissions on all counts and disputed the points raised by the petitioners. The court, however, after going through all the records produced before it, noted that one of the internal documents of MHADA mentioned ‘heritage precinct’ with respect to the bungalow and other documents showed that bungalow ass located on ML Dahanukar Marg or Carmicahel Road, and not the wider Salebhai Karimji Barodawala Street.
The bench has stayed its decision of directing the authorities to reconsider the entire case, however, it refused to stay the observation that the fate of the proposed building will depend on outcome of the proceedings.