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Pune family's land claim makes Navi Mumbai airport lose ground

CIDCO moves Supreme Court against Rs 1,200 cr compensation order for land parcel

Aneesh Phadnis Sanjay Jog  |  Mumbai 

Yashwant Bivalkar’s bungalow in Pune is adorned with miniature models of tanks and artillery pieces and paintings displaying his keen interest in military and warfare. An architect and town planner by profession, he wanted in his early years to join the army but could not do so for medical reasons.

Bivalkar (67), however, is engaged in a battle of a different kind — bloodless but painstaking. He is locked in a legal dispute with the City and Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco) over compensation for a 157-acre parcel at Ulwe village near Panvel that was acquired four decades ago without his family’s consent.

The land in question is required for construction of the Navi Mumbai airport. Last month, Bivalkar won the first round of this battle when the Bombay High Court ordered Cidco to pay compensation to him and his elder brother, Gangadhar. According to the court’s directions, Cidco has to give the Bivalkars as compensation 12.5 per cent of developed land in the area; that is, about 20 acres of developed land, valued at around Rs 1,200 crore.

But Cidco, which is implementing the Navi Mumbai airport project, has challenged the order in the Supreme Court.

Mumbai’s wait for a new airport and the Bivalkar family’s fight for compensation are more than 25 years old. With little room for expansion of the existing airport, the government began exploring alternative sites for a second airport. The government finally selected the Navi Mumbai site and began preparatory work, which has been on since early 2000. The Union Cabinet gave its in-principle approval to the airport in 2007 and the environment ministry cleared the project three years after that.

Another reason for a delay in the project has been land acquisition. Some progress on this was made this year. Top Cidco executives worked out rehabilitation plans for affected land owners and secured their consent.

The airport project began to move in the right direction. Cidco says it secured consent for acquisition of 99 per cent of the 456 hectares of private land needed for the project.

However, in parallel and away from public gaze, the Bivalkars versus State of Maharashtra case dragged on in the Bombay High Court. In October, the court delivered its judgment, awarding compensation to the Bivalkar family.

A Cidco official said the airport project would not get delayed because of litigation, as the 157-acre land has been in the government’s possession since 1959. He added the submission date for request for qualification document would not be extended beyond December 10.

But Yashwant Bilvalkar is, obviously, ready for a counter-attack, He argues: “Cidco’s action is discriminatory. It is paying compensation to all those who will be affected because of the airport. But why is it denying that to us? Is it because we are rich or we are two brothers fighting this case? I see this as harassment.”

Bivalkar, who refused to be photographed, says Cidco is only buying time by challenging the court order. “We are not against the airport and are not even seeking restoration of land. Our demand for compensation is older than the airport project,” he remarked.

A 200-year-old land story

The Bivalkars, originally from Ratnagiri district, received vast tracts of land as reward from Raghuji Angre, who controlled the state of Kolaba (present-day Raigad). The reward was given about 200 years ago, in 1816.

Yashwant Bivalkar’s great-great-grandfather was a minister in Angre’s state, which came to prominence when its then ruler Kanhoji Angre led the Maratha Navy against European powers in the 1700s. Kolaba was annexed by the British in 1840 but the reward stayed with those who had received until 1952.

In the pre-independence era, the Bivalkar family annually earned Rs 6 lakh in land revenue and property rent. Until the 1960s, the family controlled a huge estate — thousands of acres of land and properties in Raigad and Mumbai that were surrendered to the government and cultivators under various land laws, or acquired for public purpose or sold off to clear family debt.

The land parcel that is the cause for the family’s dispute with Cidco was a “private forest” handed over to the forest department for management, following an agreement with the local district collector, in 1959.

The state government issued a notification to deforest this land in 1972, and transferred it to Cidco for development of the Navi Mumbai city the following year.

When the Bivalkars knew about transfer of the land parcel in 1985, it approached the local collector for rectification of the error and seek compensation. In 1989, the Bivalkars’ ownership was upheld but the compensation was granted under the Maharashtra Private Forest (Acquisition) Act — a mere Rs 15,000 for the entire parcel of 157 acres.

Indirabai Bivalkar (Yashwant’s mother) challenged the order the same year and filed a writ petition in the high court, seeking compensation under the land acquisition Act.

Since then, the land dispute has been in court. The Bivalkars again moved high court in February 2010 on not receiving the compensation. A few months later, Cidco filed a petition claiming that the Bivalkars were not owners of the particular land parcel and, so, not entitled to any compensation.

Though the circumstances under which the reward was given could be a matter of historical debate, the Bivalkar family’s ownership to the land was never questioned till 2010.

In subsequent proceedings, the government disputed the Biwalkar’s claim to the land and stated the district collector had erred in passing the compensation order in 1989.

Last month, the high court ruled in favour of the Bivalkars and criticised the state government and Cidco for irregularities in acquisition and making frivolous pleas to deny compensation.

The dispute between the Bivalkar family and Cidco over compensation for a 157-acre parcel, dating back to 1985, was settled last month with the Bombay High Court ruling in favour of the family. The story so far:
  • 1816: The Bivalkars get large tracts of land in Maharashtra’s Raigad district from Raghuji Angre, the ruler of Kolaba state
  • 1959: The Bivalkars sign an agreement with the local district collector, hand over 157 acres of ‘private forest’ to the forest department for ‘management’
  • 1972: State govt issues a notification to deforest the land parcel; the land is allotted next year to Cidco for Navi Mumbai city’s development
  • 1985: The Bivalkar family approaches the state govt on knowing the land parcel has been transferred to Cidco without its consent; demands compensation
  • 1989: The family files a writ petition in the Bombay HC, demands higher compensation after the collector offers Rs 15,000 for the acquired land
  • 2005: State govt agrees to the Bivalkars’ ownership and withdraws its 1989 compensation award
  • 2010: The Bivalkars again approach the high court as no compensation is paid to them; Cidco files a petition the same year, claims Bivalkars are not the owners of the land, so are not entitled to compensation
  • 2014: The high court passes a judgment directing Cidco to pay compensation to the Bivalkar family

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First Published: Thu, November 27 2014. 00:56 IST