Narayan Rane misused powers in Gorai land case: HC


Rane had decided, by order dated April 29, 1997, that the Essesl's claim that it owns a tract of land in North Mumbai was valid.

But setting aside this decision on July 18, division bench of Justices P B Majmudar and R M Savant held that the whole thing was "stage-managed" and hearing conducted by Rane was "farce".

"Respondent number 2 (Rane) has misused his powers by deciding the appeal in the manner in which it was decided," the court said.

Rane, in his capacity as Revenue Minister in Shiv-Sena-BJP government, heard in 1997 an appeal filed by Essel with regard to marshy tract of land in Gorai, which was worth over Rs 139 crore as per 1993 official estimate.

The land in question had been leased by the government to one Shyamrao Velkar in 1896.

In 1944, the lease was terminated for breach of conditions, and thereafter land remained in government's possession. Fishermen in the area used it for fishing-related activities.

Mysteriously, in 1982, Velkar's descendants claimed ownership of the land, and got a court decree for partitioning it. Government was not a party to this case.

Then the land was sold to Spot Builders, which later merged into Essel Infra. But in 1989, divisional commissioner of Konkan held an inquiry and found that land belonged to the government since 1944, and Velkars had no claim to it.

Against this decision, Essel filed a suit in the High Court. In the suit, goverment opposed Essel's claim.

While the suit was pending, in 1996 a meeting between Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, Revenue Minister Rane, top bureaucrats and Essel officials took place.

Minutes of meeting revealed that the law secretary and chief secretary had pointed out that suit regarding the land was already pending before High Court, and revenue minister could not take a stand contrary to government's stand in suit.

Yet, Rane heard the appeal filed by Essel against commissioner's order, and found in Essel's favour.

In 2000, local fishermen moved the court, saying that Essel was stopping them from using the land. They also challenged Rane's 1997 order.

While setting aside Rane's findings last week, High court noted that since 1944, land had belonged to the government, and Rane's order was "diametrically opposite" to government's stand before the High Court in the pending suit.

Further, the court observed, "Filing of appeal by Essel (before Rane) was nothing but a farce as...decison was already taken to allow Essel to file appeal and to decide it in a particular manner."

Essel's appeal came eight years after commissioner's order, while rules stipulate only 90 days period for filing of appeal, the court pointed out.

"Filing of appeal and decision of appeal was stage-managed," the court held.

Regarding Essel's claim, court said that ownership issue would be decided by the single judge of High Court, before whom the suit filed by the company in 1989 is still pending.

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