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Metro car shed: Maha govt says it is ready to pay for disputed Kanjurmarg land, months after claiming it cost Rs 0

The Shiv-Sena, especially Aaditya Thackeray had led a campaign against the proposed car shed at Aarey, which was cleared by the Court. The Sena-led MVA government had shifted the proposed car shed to Kanjurmarg, a land that was under litigation.

Months after Maharashtra Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray boasted that the land acquired in Kanjurmarg for the development of the Metro car shed was secured free of cost, the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, in its latest application to the Bombay High Court, expressed its willingness to acquire the land by granting all benefits and compensation to whoever may be successful in the legal dispute.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has approached the Bombay High Court seeking its approval to start its work related to the construction of an integrated car shed for Metro lines 3, 4 and 6 at the disputed site in Kanjurmarg. An application in this regard was filed by the MMRDA in the High Court last month. The case was heard in the court on Tuesday, which said that it would hear the case finally on March 12.

In the application, the MMRDA argued that without the construction of the car shed, Metro lines 3 (Colaba-Bandra- SEEPZ), 4 (Kasarwadavali-Wadala) and 6 (Lokhandwala-Vikhroli) cannot be commissioned and made available for the use of public. Besides the problems caused to the public, the delay would even incur financial costs to the MMRDA, the application said.

The MMRDA was seeking modification of the court order passed on December 16, 2020, wherein it restrained the authorities from carrying out any construction work pertaining to the car shed at the said land. The court had put an interim stay on the order passed by the Mumbai suburban district collector on 1 October 2020, allotting 102 acres of land in Kanjurmarg to the MMRDA for construction of an integrated car shed.

Maharashtra government expresses its willingness to compensate whoever wins the litigation to acquire the Kanjurmarg land

The Maharashtra government and the Centre are embroiled in a legal dispute over the ownership of the land allotted by the state for the construction of the car depot that was earlier planned at Aarey Colony, an area in suburban Goregaon. After the district collector earmarked the land to the Metro body, the Centre had filed a petition in the HC last year, challenging the collector’s order and claiming that the land at Kanjurmarg belongs to its Salt Department.

Now, as the legal dispute drags on, the MMDRA has said in its application that it has, at no time, attempted to claim the ownership of the land and expressed its desire to compensate whomsoever be the successful party in the dispute.

“The MMRDA is ready and willing to undertake to give all benefits and compensation to which the owner and/or the lessee would be entitled on the acquisition of the said land to whomsoever may be the successful party in the dispute,” the application filed by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) at the Bombay High Court last month said.

Earlier, the Bombay HC had also slammed the collector’s order regarding the transfer of Kanjurmarg land for the metro car shed, saying that it borders on fraud.

Aaditya Thackeray had boasted acquiring the disputed Kanjurmarg land free of cost

This stand by the MMRDA, a body of the Government of Maharashtra that is responsible for preparation of Regional Plan for MMR and the infrastructure development of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, is in sharp contrast to what Maharashtra Environment smugly boasted back in October 2020. Thackeray had then claimed that the car depot land in Kanjurmarg was acquired for free of cost.

“Car depot of Metro 6 & Metro 3 will be common at Kanjurmarg. The land for the same has been handed over to @MMRDAOfficial last week, for a sum of ₹0/- (Free of cost) and soil testing has begun. It was always told it’ll cost more than ₹10,000 crores. It happens for be free,” Thackeray tweeted.

The Metro car shed project at Aarey had been a battleground between environmentalists, who were allegedly backed by vested interests and the Mumbai Metro Rail authorities, ever since the plans were first drawn up in 2015. The previous government led by Devendra Fadnavis in an overnight operation on October 4, 2019, had ordered to fell 2,141 trees at the proposed 33-hectare site, following a Bombay High Court verdict.

However, the Shiv Sena, then a partner in a BJP-led state government, had actively backed the so-called environmentalist and had lent a political voice to those protesting the felling of the trees. Sena prince Aaditya Thackeray, now the state environment minister, spearheaded the movement against the construction of the Metro Car shed and was instrumental in getting the project shifted to Kanjurmarg.

Maha Vikas Aghadi government already knew beforehand the land was under dispute: Report

Even though Aaditya Thackeray and the Maha Vikas Aghadi government preened themselves on acquiring the land for free, a report published in the Times of India in December 2020 revealed that the state government knew beforehand that the Kanjurmarg land it had finalised for the Metro card shed was under litigation. The report said that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government were already informed about the challenges in regard to the Kanjurmarg land site in January 2020, about 9 months before the government decided to shift the Metro car shed from the Aarey colony.

A committee headed by Chief Secretary Manoj Saunik had turned down the plan of a depot at Kanjurmarg in its submissions made in January 2020. The 98-page report submitted by Saunik revealed that officers of Mumbai suburban Collectorate admitted that the land at Kanjurmarg is “still sub judice”.

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