Handover the land for Bombay High Court building by September, says Supreme Court [17.5.2024]

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Maharashtra government to strive to handover by the end of September the first tranche of land for construction of a new Bombay High Court building.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud asserted that the state authorities need not wait till the end of the year to handover the entire land and smaller areas can be given as they become available.

"We direct the Maharashtra government to make all endeavour to hand over the first tranche of land of 9.64 acre by the end of September 2024. The government of Maharashtra need not wait till December to handover the entire 9.64 acre and smaller areas could be handed over. All endeavour be made for 9.64 acre to be handed over by September 30, 2024," the court said.

The top court was hearing a case under its suo motu (on its own) jurisdiction, initiated after taking note of an April 29 letter petition of Bombay Bar Association president Nitin Thakker and other bar leaders with respect to the urgent need of accommodation for the High Court of judicature at Bombay whose existing building is 150 years old.

It titled the case 'Heritage Building of the Bombay High Court and allotment of additional lands for the High Court'.

The top court was earlier informed that the high court has approved the proposal of the Maharashtra government for a land at Bandra East in Mumbai but some portion of the land was being occupied by government housing colonies.

On Friday, Advocate General for Maharashtra assured that the authorities were trying their best to facilitate construction of the new building for the high court and the deadline of December would be followed for providing the land, stating it was part of an integrated development and at present the Model Code of Conduct was in place.

"For planning you don't require MCC (to be lifted). The Election Commission will give you the exemption. You expedite 9.64 acre by September," the court stated.

The bench, also comprising Justice B R Gavai and Justice J B Pardiwala, was further told that the state government has ordered a structural audit of the high court and the work will begin soon and that the process of acquisition of alternative premises for the high court has also progressed.

Advocate General for Maharashtra said the government has proposed an agreement with the MTNL and Central Telegraph Office (CTO) in relation to their premises having 18,000 sq ft and 8,000 sq ft area, respectively.The CTO premises is subject to structural audit, he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said after "some reluctance", the Bank of India has left to the dignitaries the decision with respect to making available around 12,000 sq ft of its premises to the high court.

Mehta further said the process of appointment of an architect for developing the new building has also taken shape. He stated that the mode of calling expressions of interest from a few renowned architects for finalising the plan has been preferred over having a "design competition" or an open process.

SG Mehta said the final plan should be considered in consultation with the bar and the bench.

"We request the chief justice (of Bombay High Court) to take up the aspect with reasonable dispatch so that the appointment of the architect is complete at the earliest," the bench stated.

SG Mehta also informed that the government will make all endeavours for setting up an arbitration centre at the Bandra Kurla Complex and the proposal to make interim arrangements for the same at the Air India building is at an exploratory stage.

The matter would be heard next on July 15.

18 May 2024