Do you always act so fast, Bombay HC asks BMC in Kangana Ranaut demolition plea

Bombay high court on Friday raised several questions asking the BMC how and why it had demolished the ground floor of actor Kangana Ranaut’s bungalow at Pali Hill in Bandra if there was no ongoing, illegal work as she contended. It also sought to know if there were multiple workers at the bungalow or just a solitary workman carrying out essential water proofing work.
The main question that may play out in court is whether the BMC should have used the stringent section 354A of its Act which gives just 24 hours before demolishing any ongoing illegal work, if the work is unexplained and not stopped after issuance of notice. Kangana has contended the work was completed in January, lawfully. If at all an illegality was found, the civic body could, instead, have relied on section 351 which provides for seven days to enable the alleged violator time to respond and rectify.
A bench of Justices Shahrukh Jimi Kathawalla and Riyaz Iqbal Chagla were well prepared, having read up her petition, the replies and counter replies along with annexures. Pointing to a list of other alleged illegal structures, the bench reiterated its question from Tuesday, to special civic counsel Aspi Chinoy, Anil Sakhare and Joel Carlos. “We want to know if demolition has taken place in those cases with the same swiftness?” the bench asked.
Kangana’s counsel Birendra Saraf with Rizwan Siddiquee made submissions at some length to contend that “BMC has at every stage tried to improve its statement”. Saraf said there was no such detection on September 5 as alleged by BMC and the first detection report is of September 7. He also said details in the report were sketchy; there was “no sketch, no photographs, no entry in detection register though mandated.”
Justice Kathawalla observed, “Even on day one they did not show photos” adding that it was his “understanding” that section 354A ought not to have been resorted to.
Saraf said, “When statute conveys drastic power, it requires great responsibility.” He also said had Kangana been issued a proper notice, she would have consulted an expert.
Chinoy said the portion that was demolished was not in the sanctioned plan. He also said the demolished part is “not open to the skies” and there would be “no rain ingress”. Justice Kathawalla said he saw one broken window in the photographs.
BMC in a fresh sur-rejoinder said the actor had initially “not denied” the “unlawful alterations” mentioned in the demolition notice and said her specific denial in a rejoinder was both “belated and false”. It also submitted photographs to show the presence of “five workmen” and material present that shows “work was going on” when civic officers went to inspect.
On September 9 morning, the BMC squad had demolished a portion of alleged “ongoing unlawful additions and alterations contrary to sanctioned plans” hours before Kangana’s scheduled arrival from Manali. Her contention is the demolition was a “mala fide” counter blast by BMC as she was at “loggerheads with the government”. HC will now hear the matter on September 28.

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