MUMBAI: Over a hundred land owners, including Rohiqa Mistry, wife of the recently removed Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, challenged the state’s move to treat their holdings as private forests before the Bombay high court on Friday.
The owners, who hold plots across the state, are seeking a declaration that their holdings even if issued with show cause notices in the 1950s and 1960s are not private forests. They are relying on a 2014 Supreme Court judgment, which slammed the state for tardy administration and held that mere notices sent to land owners under the Indian Forest Act with no follow-up gave it no right to treat such land as private forests 50 years later.
The SC order thus freed vast tracts of land from the private forest tag, said senior counsel V A Gangal, who appeared in 27 petitions on Friday before a bench of Justices Shantanu Khemkar and Prakash Naik. Senior counsel Navroze Seervai, special counsel for the state, said the SC ruling would not cover all land. Rohiqa has stated she bought two small adjacent plots in Nandgaon village in Raigad district in 1998 and 2002.
The state had issued notices under section 35(3) of the Indian Forest Act in 1962 to the original land owners asking why these plots should not be made into forests. But in 1978, following orders of a collector, the plots ceased to be reserved forest and were re-vested with the owners, says her petition. Senior counsel Milind Sathe, Cherag Engineer and Naushad Engineer, who appeared for Mistry, said the SC ruling was clear.
“A mere notice would not make the land a forest, given that there was no final notification which is a requirement in law.” Other petitioners complained of similar remarks made in “mutation entries in the years 2004-05’’. Still others claimed that they received no notices. The HC asked the state to prepare a chart of cases where notices were issued and where they weren’t and posted the matter for hearing on December 9.
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