In a major relief for actress Kangana Ranaut, Bombay High Court today set aside the demolition order passed on 9 September by the BMC and held that the demolition action “was actuated by mala fides.’’ It held that the constructions done by her in her Bandra bungalow was “pre-existing’’ and not ongoing and also held that she is entitled to damages but appointed a valuer to help quantify it.
The purpose of using Section 354A of the BMC Act (meant for ongoing illegal construction) was “more sinister” and “mainly to prevent from taking legal recourse for ..preventive action,’’ held the high court.
Ranuat had filed a petition challenging as “illegal’’ the demolition carried out by BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on parts of her bungalow in Pali Hill, Bandra, alleging ongoing unathorised construction. She said she had completed renovations earlier and alleged “abuse of power’’ and “mala fide action’’ by the Shiv Sena-ruled BMC.
The action by the BMC was largely seen as part of Shiv Sena’s vendetta politics after actress Kangana Ranaut ― along with journalist Arnab Goswami ― launched tirades against Mumbai Police for its handling of the case of Sushant Singh Rajput’s mysterious death, indicting Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s son and state minister Aaditya in the process. For about three months, the actress would every other day emerge to claim she had been subjected to everything atrocious that was being reported about Bollywood: from nepotism of filmmakers and exploitation of newcomers to offers to do drugs.
Kangana called the chief minister a product of nepotism too. She likened Mumbai to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which made the BJP distance itself from her.
The high court bench of Justices SJ Kathawalla and Riyaz Chagla pronouncing its judgment said today “we set out photographs and said they are all existing work… We make it clear that this court does not countenance unauthorised construction… we do not approve any statements made by the petitioner … of the atmosphere in the state. Better advised to restrain herself…”
The high court said, “Irresponsible statements however distasteful are best ignored.” It said, “Whatever be the folly of an individual…no actions against such individual by any one much less by the state…must lie.’’
“We are of the view that the material before us makes a strong case for “malice in fact’ we are refraining from making a declaration as we have found there is “malice in law’,’’ said the Judges reading out portions from the judgment. Demolition notice of 7 September and demolition order of 9 September are quashed and set aside by the high court. She is allowed to make her bungalow habitable again and to also make an application to the BMC to carry out restoration of the demolished work, but according to sanctioned plan and BMC has to decide it within a week, if she makes such an application, said the BMC. For the portions undemolished, BMC can still take action by issuing notice under section 351 of the Act which provides for seven days for a reply.
The high court said the actress was allowed also to make an application for regularisation for any portion if needed. The court said since the demolition was unlawful, her claim for compensation is allowed. Court-appointed valuers will assess the damage and enable the high court to quantify compensation and grant her damages. The exercise can be done in three months. The high court had on 3 November received written submissions and reserved matter for judgment.
The civic body had said the actr was “making vague and baseless allegations of malafides only to obfuscate and cover up the fact that she has unlawfully and brazenly been carrying out unlawful work’’ and while seeking dismissal of her petition added that even if court holds that a 24-hour notice under Section 354A of BMC Act ought not to have been invoked since work was ‘not ongoing’, Ranaut, should not be permitted to reconstruct demolished portions.
Kangana Ranaut said the Shiv Sena-ruled BMC gave her just a 24-hour notice to deny her a chance at her legal remedies and violated her fundamental rights. Her plea was that her posts on social media had not gone down well with the party and hence she was targeted and her bungalow BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) said her plea for Rs 2 crore damages cannot be entertained by the high court under its power to ensure equitable justice as it raised “disputed questions of facts”.
In its submissions, the BMC through senior advocates Aspi Chinoy, A Y Sakhare and advocate Joel Carlos said while denying in her rejoinder affidavit that alteration work was ongoing on 5 and 7 September, “she did not state when the unlawful additions and alterations have been carried out and completed.”
The BMC case was that she “unlawfully’’ constructed “a toilet and pantry in parking area on the ground floor, two toilets in the open chowk on the first floor with brick masonry and number of partition walls to create additional rooms.’’ BMC said she was “in fact seeking to use public controversy created by her statements…to cover up the fact that she unlawfully carried out substantial alterations and additions in the Bungalow contrary to the Building Plan.’’
In her written submissions made through senior counsel Birendra Saraf and advocate Rizwan Siddiquee, the actress said structural work on her bungalow was completed in May 2019 and last August she had received permission from her society, on her request to the chairman of Chetak cooperative housing society to carry out renovation and water proofing work. The renovation work complete in January 2020 and her bungalow was also featured in magazine articles in April-May.
On 9 September, the high court had slammed the BMC and directing immediate stay on demolition said its conduct “smacked of mala fides.’ Ranaut’s submission was that the BMC has taken “inconsistent pleas and tried to improvise its case’’ as the hearing went along rights since 10 September when it first filed an affidavit till 2 September with its stand “contrary to various documents’’.
While it first said “detection report was prepared on 5 September’’ by the Mukadam, it later said “he had made a note of these facts’’ and BMC “never produced the detection report of 5 September’’ and offered no explanation so far on why online register shows detection on 7 September and few other “discrepancies.’’
Kangana in high court
- 9 September: Within hours of a civic squad arriving at her property, Actress Kangana Ranaut sought an urgent hearing before Bombay high court against allegedly “illegal and mala fide” demolition of allegedly unauthorized construction in her Bandra bungalow. The high court bench of Justices SJ Kathawalla and Riyaz Chagla ordered an immediate stay, observed it was prima facie “malafide’.
10 September: Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy and advocate Joel Carlos for BMC submitted before the HC that Ranaut had been carrying out “substantial alterations contrary to sanctioned plan”. They said demolition was without any malice and was justified.
15 September: Ranaut amended her plea and sought Rs 2 crore as damages for the “illegal” civic action.
18 September: BMC in its reply said her compensation claim was “baseless” and “bogus”
21 September: Ranaut filed an another affidavit denying BMC’s allegations. She submitted a DVD of statements made by Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut against her.
22 September: The high court asked Ranaut to add as parties to her petition, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut and Bhagyavant Late, a designated officer (ward officer) of H-West ward who approved the demolition.
24 September: “Cannot leave Kangana Ranaut’s Bandra office to remain in a partly demolished state during monsoons” said high court and posted matter for hearing on 25 September.
25 September: Actress’s lawyers said construction was not ongoing; high court said that it will examine if the structures demolished had existed earlier after Chinoy said Detection was done on 5 September when work was on and demolition was not at behest Raut.
28 September: Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut did not mention the name of actress Kangana Ranaut when he used an expletive to describe a “girl”, his lawyer advocate Pradeep Thorat informed the high court on 28 September told the HC, after the Court asked him to clarify if his client had used an abusive word against the actress.