“Nothing but malice in law”: Bombay High Court quashes BMC demolition notice to Kangana Ranaut [27 Nov, 2020]

The Bombay High Court has granted relief to actress Kangana Ranaut in her plea challenging demolition activity by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on her property in Bandra last September.

The Court has quashed the demolition notice and added that Ranaut may take steps to make her property habitable and to regularise the same.

The Court has also directed the appointment of a valuer to determine the compensation payable to Ranaut for the demolition of her property.

Highlights of the order include:

   The notice of demolition issued against Kangana Ranaut's property is quashed and set aside. MCGM has proceeded on wrongful grounds against the rights of the citizens. It is nothing but malice in law.

   Court orders compensation against the loss caused to Kangana Ranaut. A valuer has been appointed. Orders reserved on the compensation for after a report is given.

   Ranaut is allowed to take steps to make her property habitable. But that would be in compliance with the approved plan. If application made to BMC for approval, it will decided within 4 weeks.

   Ranaut can make an application for regularisation. No further steps can be taken by the BMC against such regularisation till the application disposed of. M/s Shetgiri is appointed as valuer. Charges to be borne by Ranaut. In case of any issues, she can approach the Court

The Court today ruled that there was no unauthorised construction as alleged by the BMC on Ranaut's property, finding that it was only existing work as opposed to illegal alterations.

The Bench of Justices SJ Kathawalla and RI Chagla ultimately concluded that the BMC had proceeded on wrongful grounds in this case and against rights of the citizens, which is nothing but malice in law.

MCGM has proceeded on wrongful grounds, against the rights of the citizens. It is nothing but malice in law.

Bombay High Court

The Court noted that after a perusal of the photographs of the photographs of the property and a comparison, it has concluded that the alleged altered constructions were existing work.

The Court has opined that the demolition was a reactionary activity, in view of the controversial remarks made by Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut against Ranaut, the ensuing visit of the BMC to Ranaut's property, the timeline of the demolition activity and the attempts made to delay the High Court hearing in the matter which resulted in 40% of the demolition being carried out.

“We would however refrain from giving verdict on malice”, the Court said.

Howeber, it opined:

“Even if one assumes that the malice does not amount to personal bias and may call for a trial, it does amount to legal malice. The manner in which the action was carried out leaves no doubt that not using Section 354 was more sinister and preventing her from taking a recourse.”

Even if one assumes that the malice does not amount to personal bias and may call for a trial, it does amount to legal malice

Bombay High Court

The Bench, however, remarked that Ranaut should show restraint in airing her opinions on the government. Ranaut has been vocally critical of the Shiv Sena-led State Government in Maharashtra.

The Court had reserved their verdict over a month back, on October 5.

The plea arose after BMC commenced demolition activity on Ranaut's property on September 9. After Ranaut moved and urgent plea in the Court, it restrained the BMC from carrying on further demolition activity and to explain their conduct.

When the matter was taken up for further hearing the same afternoon, the Court pulled up the BMC officials for acting in an unusually swift manner to demolish portions of Ranaut's property, despite her having moved the Court around the same time when the demolition had started.

The BMC filed its reply the next day claiming that Ranaut had carried out illegal alterations and additions on her property.

Advocate Rizwan Siddique, appearing for Ranaut, sought for more from the Court to amend the plea to place on record certain additional facts. The Court granted time to Siddique to amend the plea and in the meantime extended its stay on the demolition till September 22.

Ranaut also filed a rejoinder to BMC's reply to their original plea before the September 22 hearing.

Her amended plea contained allegationd against the Sanjay Raut, Chief Spokesperson of the Shiv Sena. On September 22, the Court asked her to either implead Raut in the plea so as to give him an opportunity to defend himself or not to pursue the claims against him.

With Ranaut decideding to pursue her allegations against him, the Court allowed her to implead Raut in the plea as also one designated officer of the BMC.

On September 23, Raut's lawyer, Advocate Pradeep Thorat sought more time to file Raut's reply. The Court granted time to the newly added parties to file their reply before their turn to address the court. However, the Bench clarified that hearing on Ranaut's submissions will begin from September 24.

Submissions made by counsel during the hearing

On September 24, Senior Advocate Birendra Saraf, appearing for Ranaut, began his submissions, arguing that the BMC had flouted their own statutory provisions and guidelines before and while carrying out the demolition work on Ranaut's property.

Saraf added that the provisions granted Ranaut an opportunity to rectify the purported illegality in her structure. However, the officials did not give her such an opportunity. He added that every action of BMC reeked of malafide intentions.

When the hearing continued on September 29, both BMC and Raut faced criticism from the Court on the manner in which they had acted.

The Court reprimanded Raut for his derogatory remarks against Ranaut. They also mused upon why BMC officials had not taken any action against the Ranaut's super-structure for such a long time until the day they sent her notice.

Senior Advocate Aspi Chinoy, arguing for BMC, replied that the treatement meted out to Ranaut was not exceptional, as claimed. He further submitted that BMC had no political connections and that the controversy in this matter was created by Kangana going to the media. Referring to BMC’s affidavit, he claimed that Kangana was carrying out brazen and illegal alterations, and that she has conveniently remained silent on that aspect.

He reiterated that she had an alternate remedies available and should have exhausted those before moving the High Court's extraordinary jurisdiction.

Senior Advocate Anil Sakhare, appearing for the BMC officer summoned by the Court, asked the Bench to consider that Ranaut had a higher burden to prove malice against the officer which she had not been able to prove.

After directing all parties to file their written submissions, the Court reserved the matter for orders.

__________________


30 Nov 2020