HC stays demolition notices to structures in Vishalgad Fort
The aggrieved persons approached the HC challenging the demolition notice stating that their structures were constructed prior to the fort being declared a protected monument in 1999.
Mumbai The Bombay high court on Thursday stayed the December 13 orders of the Maharashtra Archeology department, ordering demolition of structures in Vishalgad Fort in Kolhapur allegedly belonging to persons from a minority community. The department had directed the persons to demolish their structures within 30 days of receipt of the orders.
The aggrieved persons approached the HC challenging the demolition notice stating that their structures were constructed prior to the fort being declared a protected monument in 1999. Hence, the relevant sections of Maharashtra Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act.1960 could not be applied to them. The HC has stayed the demolition till March 10.
The division bench of justice Gautam Patel and justice Neela Gokhale, while hearing the petition filed by Ayub Kagadi and six others, was informed by advocates Pradnya Talekar and Madhavi Ayyappan that the persons claimed to be in possession of small land parcels within Vishalgad Fort in Kolhapur district for more than 30 to 60 years. While the land in the possession of one of them was regularised in 1983, proposals for regularisation of the structures were pending before the government.
The bench was further informed that the petitioners were issued notices on December 13, 2022, by the joint director of the Department of Archaeology under Section 21 (2) of the 1960 Act. The notice directed the petitioners to demolish their structures within 30 days and stated that if the petitioners failed to do so the government would undertake demolition without notice and the cost would be recovered from them.
Talekar added that on February 3, the principal secretary of the Tourism and Cultural Affairs Department had issued a government resolution (GR) approving amount of ₹1.17 crore as demolition cost and a tender notice was issued on February 9, inviting proposals to undertake the said demolition. Being aggrieved the petitioners approached HC.
The bench was told that the declaration of Vishalgad Fort as a protected monument under the Act was done much after the land came in possession of the petitioners and hence, no action was maintainable. Talekar further submitted that the invoked law only permitted demolition of buildings, which are constructed without prior permission of the government in protected areas.
The petition further claimed that the action was triggered only due to the pressure tactics of Hindu religious groups including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and added that though there were several Hindu settlements within the protected area at Vishalgad, no action was undertaken against them. “The petitioners are selectively discriminated against only for their religious identities,” said the petition
In light of the above the petition sought quashing and setting aside of the government order, the tender notice and GR and sought regularization of the possession of petitioners. Pending hearing, the petition also sought interim stay on the directives of the government to demolish the structures.
After hearing the submissions, the Court stayed the demolition notices and posted further hearing to March 10.