Always this swift to demolish? Bombay HC asks BMC in Kangana Ranaut case

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The Bombay high court on Friday asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) if it always acts with the same swiftness to demolish other unauthorised structures as it did with actor Kangana Ranaut’s bungalow. The high court has asked the civic body to explain why it did not proceed against Ranaut under provisions of the law that would have required the corporation to give the actor sufficient time to respond to the charges.

The bench also remarked that Pradeep Thorat’s client (Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut) had indeed done what he said, a reference to the title of an article in Sena mouthpiece Saamana ‘Ukhad diya’ (uprooted) that was seen to link the BMC action to the Sena leader. The article was published after parts of the actor’s Pali Hill bungalow were demolished on September 9.

The bench has asked the BMC to explain why it had carried out the demolition in the ground floor when there was no ongoing work and asked for details of the workmen alleged to be carrying out the alterations when the premise was inspected.

The court’s observations and directions came after Kangana Ranaut’s lawyer told the high court that the BMC had invoked section 354 (A) of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act to initiate action against the actor’s building which pertains to ongoing work at a construction site. Senior counsel Birendra Saraf, who represented the actor in the proceedings, told the two-judge bench that there was no ongoing work at the premises when the BMC staffers claimed to have detected the unauthorised construction on September 5 and September 7.

The court has asked the BMC to produce the phone of the mukadam who detected the unauthorised construction in Kangana Ranaut’s bungalow on September 5 to verify if the photographs of the alleged ongoing unauthorised alterations and additions were taken on that day. The report of the unauthorised construction is reported to have provoked the BMC team’s inspection of the building on September 7.

Birender Saraf contended that the real reason for the demolition wasn’t the discovery of the unauthorised construction but Kangana Ranaut’s tiff on social media with the Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut over she called out the government.

The two-judge bench of justices SJ Kathawalla and justice RI Chagla is hearing Kangana Ranaut’s petition – initially filed to seek a stay on the demolition on September 9. She later sought compensation of Rs 2 crore for the damage to her property caused during the demolition.

Kangana Ranaut told the high court that she had photographic evidence to back up her claim that the unauthorised alterations and additions alleged by the BMC in its notice were completed in 2019. This could be established by photographs taken in January 2020 during a pooja that was held on the premises.

Birender Saraf told the judges that the actor was a public-spirited person and had taken to social media to criticise the government for its handling of various issues that led Shiv Sena chief spokesperson Sanjay Raut to target her. The senior lawyer added that the demolition was carried out at the behest of Raut since she had countered and confronted him on social media.

Ranaut’s team told the court that there were several discrepancies and contradictions in the two BMC affidavits filed on September 10 and 17 and asked the judges to get the BMC to provide complete details of the detection, inspection and stop work notices issued as well as provide any evidence that some work was going on at the bungalow in the first place.

Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy who represented BMC along with advocate Joel Carlos submitted that the actor was trying to improvise its arguments as she had not denied the unauthorised alterations and additions pointed out in the BMC notice. Chinoy further said that while only two demolished toilets would have been exposed to the rains, the rest of the demolition was internal.

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