THE Bombay High Court on Wednesday stayed the demolition of alleged unauthorised structures at an office of actor Kangana Ranaut, hours after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had started the exercise.
“We cannot help but mention here that if the MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) would act with similar swiftness qua the numerous unauthorized constructions, the City would be a completely different place to live in,” the court said.
The BMC team had arrived at Ranaut’s office in Bandra West around 10.30 am, and claimed to have demolished almost 75 per cent of the “unauthorised” additions and extensions by the time the court stay came after noon. The rest would be razed after the High Court stay is vacated, officials said
A division bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and R I Chagla conducted an urgent hearing through video-conference on the actor’s plea filed through advocate Rizwan Siddiqui. The BMC has been asked to file a reply by Thursday. On her way to Mumbai from Chandigarh at the time, Ranaut tweeted photos and videos of the demolished structures at her office, calling the BMC action “death of democracy”, and comparing the civic body to “Babar ki army” and her office to “Ram Mandir”.
“There is no illegal construction in my house, also government has banned any demolitions in Covid till September 30,” she said, adding, “this is what Fascism looks like”. Having compared Mumbai to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir earlier, she called the city Pakistan on Wednesday.
The BMC had issued a stop work notice to Ranaut on Tuesday over the renovation and finishing work at the Manikarnika Films Production House office at Pali Hill in Bandra West. The civic body said it went ahead with the demolition as Ranaut had failed to produce legal documents authorising the work, within the 24-hour deadline given by them. Siddiqui said they had sought seven days to produce the papers.
In her plea in the High Court seeking interim relief, Ranaut called the BMC notice illegal, and said the civic body had hurried with the demolition process for ulterior reasons.
In its 10-page order, the court noted that while the petition was put up before it around 11.30 am and was taken up for hearing at 12.30 pm, for the first 10 minutes, no one appeared for the BMC. In the meantime, Ranaut’s lawyer told the court, 40 per cent of the premises was demolished by the BMC.
The Bench said the BMC appeared to be “trying to waste the time of the court and in the meantime complete the demolition”, and said it had failed to even reach the Municipal Commissioner.
The court also questioned the notice to Ranaut at a time that she was out of the state, “directing her to respond within 24 hours, and not granting her any further time”. “… the manner in which the BMC has proceeded to commence demolition work of the said premises prima facie does not appear to be bona fide and smacks of mala fide.”
In a video message posted on Twitter in Hindi, Ranaut attacked Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and said she would make a movie on Kashmiri Pandits as she now understood their “situation and pain”. “What do you think, Uddhav Thackeray, that you have taken some big revenge by colluding with the film mafia to break my house? Today, my house was broken, tomorrow it will be your arrogance… And I think you have done me a big favour. Because though I knew what Kashmiri Pandits must have gone through, today I experienced the same. Aur aaj mein iss desh ko vachan deti hoon, ki mein sirf Ayodhya par hee nahin, Kashmir par bhi film banaungi (And I promise the country today, that not only will I make a film on Ayodhya but also Kashmir),” she said.
A BMC team that inspected Ranaut’s office on Monday listed 14 instances of illegal construction at the bungalow, including conversion of a toilet on the ground floor into an office, construction of a kitchen inside a store room, new toilets near a store room, conversion of the balcony into a habitable area, merger of one bungalow into another, and extensions on the third floor.
Ranaut had purchased the premises, Bungalow No. 5 on Pali Hill, in 2017 and started renovation work in it in January.12
BMC officials said they would also chase a case over “illegal” construction at Ranaut’s residence on Khar Road. The corporation had sent notice regarding the property in 2018, and the case is pending in court. In her tweets, the actor said about the 2018 notice, “This was not just to me but to (the) entire building and this is not my flat issue but a building issue which builder needs to deal with and this building belongs to Sharad Pawar we bought the flat from his partner so he is answerable for this not me.”
Incidentally, the BMC has exempted Ranaut from the rule requiring 14 days home quarantine on arrival from outside the city, after she submitted an application saying she was leaving Mumbai in seven days. A BMC official said, “As per the protocol laid for Covid-19, if a person is visiting the city for only seven days, then exemption can be given. Ranaut’s office had made an online application.”