Family goes to court: ‘That’s our land, not mangroves’
Krishnadevi Kamathia and eight others have contended that they are the heirs of Malchand Chandulal and Bhagwatilal Gangulal who purchased the property at an auction on December 18, 1956, and set up 'Srinivas Salt Works' to manufacture salt.
In the suit filed through their constituted attorney Jayesh Shah, director of Ravi Jyoti Finance and Leasing Pvt Ltd, the plaintiffs have urged the court to declare null and void three documents: a July 27, 1997 letter of the collector, Mumbai Suburban to the principal secretary, revenue department; a state government notification of February 18, 2009; and a report of the state's Grievance Redressal Committee, purportedly from June 15, 2009.
According to the plaintiffs, the collector's letter said the land was "mangrove forests", the notification listed the land as "forest", and the report reiterated that the land was "mangrove forest".
The suit says the plaintiffs learnt of the notification of February 18, 2009, issued by the divisional commissioner, Konkan Region, in March 2009. According to the suit, the notification declared their land "erroneously, wrongfully, illegally, without following due process of law and contrary to the provisions of law" as a "forest".
The suit claims that the salt pans still exist, though they are "not operational for some time due to disputes between the deputy salt commissioner, Bombay, and the plaintiffs and various other persons". The "accidental and/or spontaneous growth of some vegetation... due to temporary discontinuance of production... of salt... cannot result in the said property being termed or treated as a forest".
The plaintiffs have said that buildings have come up on properties adjoining their plot; hence the declaration of the land as 'forest' is arbitrary.
The state government's written submissions filed through assistant government pleader G W Mattos on Thursday termed the plaintiffs' claim of Rs 1,000 crore as "grossly exaggerated."
The government said that the June 2009 report of the Grievance Redressal Committee had only reiterated the fact that the land consisted of mangroves as stated earlier in 1997. The plaintiffs had filed the suit after more than 13 years, it added.
The government contended that the land consisted of dense and sparse mangroves and mud flats capable of regenerating mangroves and was, therefore, rightly declared a forest.
The government denied that salt manufacturing on the land had been temporarily suspended, and that that could not, in any case, change the character of the land. Salt manufacturing was carried out on the land till 1991, and the plaintiffs' licence was valid only till 1993, the government said.
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