The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) on Tuesday, 2nd March 2021 approached the Bombay high court (HC) through an interim application, seeking lifting of the court’s stay on the October 1, 2020 order by the Mumbai suburban district collector, which permitted the transfer of 102 acres at Kanjurmarg to the authority for building a car shed and an interchange station for Metro lines 3, 4, 4A and 6.
The Centre and the Maharashtra government have been locked in a tussle over ownership of the land earmarked by the state for constructing the car depot, which was earlier planned at Aarey Colony. Last year, the Centre had filed a petition in the HC, challenging the collector’s order and said the land belongs to its salt department.
On December 16, 2020, acting on three separate petitions, a division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice Girish Kulkarni stayed the October 1, 2020 order. The bench had also restrained MMRDA from carrying any further work on the site. MMRDA’s contractor, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited, was testing soil at the site at the relevant time.
Now, in its application, MMRDA has stated that as the public project is of importance and the work has already commenced, it was ready to give an undertaking that it would extend all benefits and compensation to which the owner and/or lessee would be entitled on acquisition of the said land under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act.
The application is expected to be heard next week.
The interim application, while seeking lifting of the HC stay, said the state government had conducted a viability and sustainability assessment of the land at Kanjurmarg and found it suitable for the construction of the Metro car shed and interchange station.
The application further stated that if the project was not allowed, three Metro lines, namely the Lokhandwala-Vikhroli, Kasarwadavali-Wadala and Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ could not be commissioned and made available for public use.
The application added that while the car shed at Kanjurmarg was aimed at saving environmental damage, which could be caused if the shed was constructed at Aarey, it would also optimise the operation of the Metro lines due to its unique geographical and locational advantage.
While stressing on the possible loss to the public exchequer due to the delay if the development activities were not permitted, the application stated that disruption of development of the car shed, which also includes a casting yard would cost Rs 2.5 crore – 3 crore a day. “The Metro car depot, which also includes a casting yard, is indispensable as regards to the functioning of any metro line. If such car shed is not allowed to be developed forthwith, metro lines 6, 4 and 3 cannot be made functional. Resultantly, a major portion of the metro project will be disrupted, leading to failure of the entire scheme of Mumbai Metro Rail project as envisaged for the city of Mumbai.”
With regards to the title of the land, the MMRDA application stated that the dispute between the centre and state over ownership of the land could be resolved amicably as both recognised the need for the Metro project. The application also stated that the Centre had shown its willingness to give the said land to MMRDA.
Addressing the claims of one Mahesh Garodia, who also challenged the collector’s order, the application stated, “No prejudice would be caused to Garodia in the event the MMRDA is permitted to utilise the land for the project in view of the undertaking given by MMRDA to give all benefits and compensation to which the owner and/or lessee would be entitled to an acquisition of the land.” In light of these submissions, the application sought the lifting of the stay on the car shed project.
Two of the three petitions are filed by the Central government, seeking stay on the Metro car shed work at the salt pan land. By one of the petitions, the Centre has challenged October 1, 2020 order by the district collector, allotting 102 acres out of Survey No 275 (part) to MMRDA. On October 6, 2020, the collector handed over possession of the salt pan land to MMRDA, which in turn handed it over to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Limited, which has been awarded the contract to construct the Metro car shed. Centre has claimed that entire salt pan lands in the belt, including the 102 acres, belongs to its salt department and has always been under administrative control of the deputy salt commissioner.
By a separate petition, Centre has also challenged November 1, 2018, order of the Maharashtra revenue minister, upholding addition of names of the state government and some private parties in ownership column of the revenue record of several salt pan lands at Nahur, Mulund, KanjurMarg, Mandale, Malvani and Pahadi areas of Mumbai.
The third petition was filed by Garodia. Garodia has claimed beneficial interest in vast tract of salt pan lands, including the 102-acres plot at Kanjurmarg, as a legal representative of the original lessee of the lands. He claimed that has filed a suit concerning the entire land leased to his predecessors and high court has passed interim orders in his favour. The suits are subsequently transferred to Bombay City Civil Court, which has confirmed the interim orders.
Garodia’s counsel, senior advocate Shyam Mehta, had pointed out to court that till January 2020 the technical advisory committee of the state government had maintained that Kanjurmarg was not viable for construction of the metro car shed. They, therefore, changed the reservation of a suitable piece of land at Aarey Colony and spent over Rs200 crore for preparation at Aarey Colony.
The 102-acre plot has become a bone of serious contention between Maharashtra government and the Centre. Ignoring steep opposition of environmental activists to vast tree cutting required for the car shed at Aarey Colony, when he was at the helm of affairs, BJP’s former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had decided to construct the car shed for Mumbai Metro-3 at Aarey Colony, .
After the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA), comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, came to power in 2019, it responded positively to environmentalists and shifted the shed to Kanjurmarg, a location which the Fadnavis government had specifically rejected.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led government then decided to construct an integrated metro car shed at Kanjurmarg, instead of constructing separate car sheds for these lines individually.
The MMRDA, on its part, had highlighted that the stay on work at Kanjurmarg will entail additional expenditure for MMRDA of Rs2,328 crore on land acquisition and Rs1,600 crore as operational costs.