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HC asks MoS Home to file reply on PIL alleging power misuse

The Bombay High Court directed Maharashtra Minister Ranjit Patil to file an affidavit in response to a PIL that alleged that he misused his powers to protect an unauthorised eatery in the city, observing that “prima facie everything appears to be fishy”.

It also termed as “unpalatable” the failure of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to demolish the unauthorised structure and asked the petitioner to amend his PIL to include a plea for an inquiry against the officials of the planning body.

A division bench of Justices B R Gavai and M S Karnik was hearing the public interest litigation filed by activist Pravin Wategaonkar who alleged that Patil, the minister of state for home, had stayed the demolition of illegal portions of a food court in Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) here.

The Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act does not have any provision for granting such a stay, the PIL claimed.

The court said, “Prima facie everything appears to be fishy. The minister (Patil), despite being apprised of all the facts in the present case, let it (the structure) stand and adjourned hearing into the matter (seeking regularisation of the structure) for a month.

“Even after that one month, the unauthorised structure continued to stand for over three months,” the HC observed.

The PIL alleged that the said eatery was managed by the kin of a bureaucrat currently serving in the Maharashtra government and, thus, Patil misused powers and stayed its demolition.

“Does the minister have nothing to say in response to the allegations levelled against him?” Justice Gavai asked after he was informed that despite the earlier directions, Patil had not yet filed his affidavit.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbakoni assured the court that the minister would file the affidavit on the next date of hearing.

The court also raised queries as to how MMRDA had not taken any steps to demolish the structure immediately.

“In August 2016, the owner of the eatery gave an undertaking that he would himself remove the unauthorised structure. But he did not do so. We want to know what prevented the MMRDA from demolishing the structure? The structure was finally demolished in December 2016,” Justice Gavai said.

“This is somewhat unpalatable. We want the petitioner to amend his petition and include a specific prayer seeking for an inquiry to be initiated against the MMRDA officials concerned,” the judge said, while posting the petition for hearing after three weeks.

As per the plea, the MMRDA had leased the space in BKC to a company, ‘Spice and Grains’, for a food court. The development authority, however, found that the company had carried out unauthorised construction in the area and in May last year, it issued a demolition notice to it.

Though the company agreed to carry out the demolition work on its own at that time, in August 2016 it approached Patil requesting that the demolition order be stayed and the minister granted the stay immediately, the PIL claimed.

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