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Identify afresh illegal shrines in Nashik: HC tells civic body

The Bombay High Court has directed the Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC) to carry out a fresh exercise of identifying unauthorised religious structures in the city and follow the procedure laid down for it by the Maharashtra government.

The state government had issued a resolution on May 5, 2011 for regularisation of unauthorised religious shrines.

As per the government resolution (GR), the constructions carried out after September 29, 2009 are to be demolished.

Religious structures constructed before that will be categorised as those which could be regularised, those which create obstacles to traffic and hence cannot be regularised, and the third category of those which could be relocated to another suitable place.

The GR had laid down a specified procedure to be followed before deciding which structure needs to be regularised, demolished or relocated.

As per the GR, a committee had to be set up at the corporation and district council levels to undertake the exercise.

Two Nashik residents — Vinod Thorat and Kailas Deshmukh — approached the high court challenging the city civic body’s decision to issue notices of demolition to 530 unauthorised religious structures in August this year.

The petition claimed that the NMC had not followed the due procedure laid down in the GR and failed to give opportunity to the stakeholders concerned.

The corporation should have also issued a list of religious structures that would face demolition in newspapers before issuing demolition notices as mandated in the GR, the petition said.

The corporation in its defence said a list of 530 religious structures was put up on websites of the NMC and the Nashik police. An advertisement about this was also published in prominent newspapers in February 2016.

A division bench of Justices B R Gavai and M S Karnik earlier this month accepted contentions of the petition and noted that the GR mandated that the entire list of those religious structures that face demolition has to be published in prominent newspapers.

“Mere release of a press note in the newspaper that the list of structures categorised can be found on the website of the corporation is not sufficient compliance of the GR,” the court said.

It noted that the civic body arrived at the decision that 530 structures were constructed after September 29, 2009 without offering an opportunity to stakeholders to counter the claim and prove that the structures were constructed prior to that date.

“…therefore the corporation’s decision is in violation of the mandatory procedure prescribed in the GR,” the court said.

The high court directed the civic body’s committee to identify structures constructed prior and post September 29, 2009 afresh and by following the procedure laid down in the GR.

After this exercise, the corporation shall submit list of those structures that face demolition in prominent newspapers and invite objections to the same.

The civic body shall hear the objections and then take a final decision in a period of three months thereafter, the court said.

The bench, however, clarified that the structures located on footpaths or public roads and obstructing traffic shall be demolished and will not be covered under this order.

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