Case that will decide future land acquisitions in Maharashtra in final stage

A case that may determine the state government course of acquisition of slums for future redevelopment has reached the final stage in Bombay High Court (HC).

On Tuesday, HC heard the petitioner questioning constitutional validity of section 14 of Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971.

Sara Harry D'mello of Bandra (West) urged the court to strike down the section that pertains to the power of the state to acquire land. She was issued a show-cause notice by the additional collector in December 1998 to acquire her 1,575 square-metre property in the upscale locality. D'mello alleged she was deprived of her land at the behest of encroachers.

In 2003, HC ordered a status quo in the case with D'mello and four others filing pleas to declare section 14 of Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance and Redevelopment) Act, 1971, unconstitutional.

D'mello contended the section authorised the government to pass an order based on recommendations of the collector after hearing the owner of a land and other people concerned, but did not require the collector or the state to pass a reasoned order. This, she claimed violated article 14 (right to equality) of Constitution of India.

In an affidavit filed through assistant government pleader G W Mattos, the state government, however, said the challenge was devoid of merit.

" ...the principles of natural justice cannot be embodied in a straightjacket formula... the recommendations of the competent authority are in the nature of suggestions and the state government has to come to an independent conclusion about the same," the affidavit filed by Sanjay Ingle, under secretary to the housing department, stated.

The petitioner contended the collector passed the land to slum rehabilitation authorities who transferred it to builders for crores of rupees, while the owner of the land is given a paltry sum. She cited an example of land acquired in central Mumbai in which the owner was paid Rs 32,000 while Slum Rehabilitation Authority received Rs 6 crore.

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