Christmas eve has brought bad news for Gundecha Builders….one of the top builders of Mumbai.
On 23rd December 2015, Justice Mridula Bhatkar of the Bombay High Court settled a 36-year-old litigation initiated by one Shivram Shinde (since deceases) who claimed he was in “adverse possession” of the land since 1944. Gundecha Builders joined the litigation later, saying it had bought the land in 1979 from one Shivram Shinde and sought the ouster from the property of MHADA, which is proposing an affordable housing project on it.
In her order Justice Mridula Bhatkar has observed:
“It is to be noted that this is a huge government land which the government has handed over to MHADA for construction of houses for lower and middle-income groups. A judicial note is taken that in case of government land for which some scheme is launched for a public cause, it is stalled immediately either by slumlords or by encroachers by approaching the court and manipulating the facts and documents,” adding, “These attempts are required to be defeated, otherwise public cause gets frustrated and the land is grabbed by encroachers illegally only on the basis of muscle power.”
Justice Mridula Bhatkar said it was the duty of the court to uphold the rule of law to ensure that government land is preserved especially when it is reserved for a public cause. Justice Mridula Bhatkar has observed: “I am of the view that the suit filed by (Shinde and the builders) is entirely bogus, malafide and false with the intention to grab the land with the help of some government employees, which ought not to be allowed. It is only possible by imposing exemplary costs on the builder, considering the damage to the public cause and state wealth.”
The court directed the developer to pay Rs 1 crore as costs to MHADA within four weeks and allowed the agency to initiate action against the slum dwellers who have encroached on the property. The court extended an earlier stay on the agency till January 29, 2016, to allow time for the developer to file an appeal.
History of the Litigation
The sprawling piece of land is located in Goregaon West. The case goes back to 1979, when Shivram Shinde laid claim on the land on the principle of “adverse possession” since 1944 – which means he had right over the government property as he had uninterruptedly occupied it for over 30 years. He claimed to have sold a part of it to Gundecha Builders, the builder in 1950 and the remaining portion in 1978.
The builder joined the litigation in 1998. They relied on notices issued by local authorities to claim possession of the land. This was opposed by MHADA, which pointed out that the land was part of the larger parcel of land of 241 acres which was given to it by the government in the 1960s. The state had acquired the land from the original owners between 1948 and 1950 and had paid Rs 14 lakh as compensation to the various owners. Shinde had not lodged any proceedings for the land during this time. Senior advocate P D Anklesaria, counsel for MHADA, told the HC, “It was a case of land grabbing by the builder, and he was claiming the land illegally in the name of Shivram Shinde, who was illiterate, poor and was never in possession of a single guntha of the property.”
Justice Mridula Bhatkar held that Shivram Shinde (who died during the pendency of the litigation) and the builder “have miserably failed for want of cogent, credible evidence to establish 12 or 30 years continuous, peaceful open possession of the land”. The judge said except for sale agreements between private parties, no document prior to 1970 of possession of the land was submitted before the court. “In the present case, the government was throughout in the possession. (Shinde and the builders) of and on might have been in possession of some portion of land by way of encroachment, but the Government did not lose its possession of the land,” the court said.