The Maharashtra government’s plan to shift the Mumbai metro car shed from Aarey Colony to Kenjurmarg suffered a setback as the Bombay High Court passed an interim order on Wednesday staying the transfer of 102 acres of land to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
The High Court was hearing a petition filed by the Centre, which has claimed the land belonged to it. On October 1, the state government had allotted the Kanjurmarg salt pan land for building of the metro car shed, which was earlier supposed to come up at Aarey Colony. The land was then handed over to MMRDA on October 6. Subsequently, MMRDA transferred the land to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited (DMRCL) on October 8.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni stopped DMRCL from starting work and set the next hearing date to February 2021.
The Centre had filed a writ plea through its deputy salt commissioner challenging a November 2018 order of the Maharashtra revenue minister regarding transfer of land.
Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, arguing on behalf of the Centre, said the HC bench should set aside the state’s order and should not be given the opportunity to hear the parties afresh as the land belonged to the Centre.
Senior counsel Milind Sathe, speaking for MMRDA, reiterated the urgent need for Kanjurmarg land to be transferred to MMRDA to develop a metro car shed. Sathe enumerated the economic gains of constructing an integrated car shed while adding that a stay by the High Court would mean an additional expense of Rs 2,300 crore on land acquisition and Rs 1,600 crore as operational costs.
Senior advocate Shyam Mehta, representing Maheshkumar Garodia of Garodia Group, also challenged the state’s order. He said a case over possession of the land was pending in court and the transfer of land (for metro) was done without taking note of the matter. Garodia has so far claimed that nearly 500-acre land in Kanjur village has been leased to him.
Mehta also said that the land was reserved for low-cost housing and an application to this effect has been made by private developer Shapoorji Pallonji.
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Chief Justice Datta had said on Monday: “The Collector is aware there is a pending suit. In his order, is there any mention on the suit? No reference at all? He just turned a blind eye… there should be proper exercise of power. We will not allow this order to retain. Prima facie we are of the view that the matter should go to the collector. Let him decide after hearing Garodia and others.”
The Aarey story
Immediately after taking over as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra last year, Uddhav Thackeray had stopped work on the metro car shed at Aarey Colony. It was in response to the opposition from environment activists to cutting trees in lush green Aarey colony for building a metro shed. Aditya Thackeray, the present state environment minister, had then stood up with the protesters against his own government led by then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. In September, the Uddhav government declared that 600 acres of land in the area would be a forest.
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Till October 2019, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation had cut 2,141 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony area to make space for a car shed. The Supreme Court too had intervened. Eventually, the Maharashtra government scrapped the entire Aarey Colony plan and shifted the metro shed to Kenjurmarg, about 8 kms away. The BJP and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis openly criticized the government’s decision arguing that the shift would increase project cost significantly.