Bombay HC asks Maharashtra government how data is used for ready reckoners
MUMBAI: The Bombay high court has directed the Maharashtra government to give information on the data used to decide land rates for its ready reckoners, a yearly index of market prices of properties.
The HC was hearing a clutch of petitions which challenged as arbitrary a 2012 state policy for lease-rent renewal of government plots. A dozen Bandra housing societies say the policy has increased their rents “400 to 1,900” times.
The state linked renewal of lease and new payable rents to the “market value” of plots. Such linkage is arbitrary and unlawful and financially unviable to the societies, argued their counsels Rafique Dada and Navroz Seervai.
At a recent hearing last month, advocate-general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said the linkage to market rates is justified.
An HC bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre observed that the original lease requires lease rent fixation during renewal on general value of similarly situated "unimproved” plots and called for data on which ready reckoners are made.
Before the HC was a clutch of about a dozen different petitions filed largely in 2014 by cooperative housing societies, including Zephyr, Sea King, Seakist, Vrindavan, Asuda Kutir, Mon Repos and also two charitable institutions, Shirindai Cama Convalescent Home for Poor Parsi Men and Boys, as well as Bandra-Parsi Convalescent Home for Women and Children.
More than 50 plots in Bandra (West) alone are estimated to be affected.
The challenge is to a December 2012 government resolution that set a method to revise rents and also to convert the plots on certain payment to give “occupancy rights” with certain restrictions, including on their transfer.
Zephyr CHS and 11 other societies in Bandra (West) said the plots were originally leased out in 1,900 for 50 years. The lease deeds permitted construction on the plots and renewal of lease. They were renewed for 30 more years with the condition that from January 1981 new rent would kick in.
The lease was extended by another decade, but in 1986 the state decided to increase the residential plot lease rent 25 times and double that for commercial use. Societies approached the HC in 1991 and in 1992 the court quashed the hikes and asked the state to decide fairly.
Tagged along now, however, is also a PIL filed in 2013 by former chief information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi who also challenged the 2012 GR too, but for the opposite reason.
The PIL challenged the “arbitrary” renewal of expired leases “at colossal concessional rates, causing huge loss of thousands of crores of rupees to the public exchequer”. It questioned the “inaction of authorities” in failing to take back lands.
In 2015, the HC restrained coercive action by the state on societies and asked both to talk it out. In 2018, the state said it reduced the renewal lease rent amounts by altering the formula to charge lease rent. But the societies challenged the new formula too as it was still linked to market rates.
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