The Bombay high court on Thursday paved the way for expansion of the Veer Jijamata Udyan at Byculla, popularly known as Byculla Zoo, by dismissing a petition filed by Mafatlal Industries Limited.

A division bench of justice SC Dharmadhikari and justice Bharati Dangre also refused to continue the status quo order granted earlier on the petition, thus making available 27,284 square metres (around 7 acres) of land for expansion of the zoo. The status quo order had withheld the expansion of the zoo.

Two plots, together measuring 70,360 square metres (around 17 acres), were leased out by the state government to the predecessor of Mafatlal Industries – Sassoon Spinning and Weaving Company Limited – in 1923. In 1966, the entire plot was reserved for expansion of the zoo.

In February 2004, the state released about half of this land from reservation and allowed the company to commercially exploit that portion by developing it.

Mafatlal entered into an agreement with a developer and sold development rights of the 50% plot, to be commercially exploited. It approached the HC after the then collector of Mumbai issued a notice to it on October 15, 2016, demanding ₹454.35 crore towards unearned income from the sale of development rights.

The company contended it continued to be the owner of the entire plot and apart from seeking waiver of the demand of the unearned income, also staked claim to the rest of the land, measuring 27,284 square metres, and sought compensation for it – either in the form of transferable development right (TDR) or its market price.

Acting on the petition filed by Mafatlal, a single-judge bench of HC had in March 2017 ordered all parties to maintain status quo on the plot – thus prohibiting the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)from using the 27,284 sqmt plot for expansion of the zoo. It had also challenged the government’s handing over possession of this part of the property to the BMC in January 2017. Senior advocate Anil Sakhare, who represented the BMC, strongly contested the company’s claim that it was the owner of the entire property. Sakhare submitted that the government was the owner of the entire property, which was leased out to Mafatlal and since leases had expired, the company cannot claim ownership over the property handed over to the BMC.

The HC accepted his contention and dismissed Mafatlal Industries’ petition, paving way for the zoo’s expansion.

First Published: Aug 17, 2018 00:18 IST

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