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HC reprieve for builder booked for destroying 'mangroves'

Andheri tehsildar complained that builder was destroying mangroves next to a nullah in Lokhandwala, but defence said that there are only a couple of bushes at the said plot

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the police to cease investigations against a builder, who was accused by an Andheri tehsildar of destroying mangoes while developing a plot. In an FIR filed on January 7 this year, Nandkumar Balsaraf, a circle officer for the Andheri tehsil had alleged that Vikas Walawalkar, the builder, was destroying mangroves at a plot measuring 7,747.1 sq m in a residential zone, which is located next to a nullah in Lokhandwala Complex, Andheri (West).

However, in an unrelated report, Balsaraf himself had written to the collector describing the foliage in question as 'bushes', not mangrove trees. While staying investigations into the FIR, a bench comprising Justices VM Kanade and PD Kode said, "Prima facie, in our view the case is made out by petitioners for interim relief."

FIR filed
After the FIR was filed, Samartha Development Corporation, the developer responsible for constructing Lokhandwala complex, filed a petition stating that the tehsildar was acting in connivance with some miscreants to obstruct the firm from developing the plot. According to the petition, the company has been trying to develop the plot, and its efforts are being thwarted by some 'anti-social elements'. The petition also claimed that the tehsildar acted on complaints by these disgruntled men and registered an FIR against the company.

In reality, states the petition, there are only two or three mangrove trees next to the nullah, some distance away from the north end of the plot. And they do not qualify as a 'forest', which, as per law, is entitled for protection.

In the FIR, the tehsildar alleged that the builder is destroying mangroves in the area by illegally dumping debris at the roots of the foliage. The complaint also mentioned that this was in clear violation of the High Court orders protecting mangroves.

Senior Advocate Shirish Gupte, representing the builder, told the court, "In fact, there is no mangrove on the spot, only a few bushes." What worked in favour of the builder was a report dated March 11, 2008 by Balsaraf addressed to the collector.

In the report, which discusses the construction of a bridge over the nullah, he describes the plot in question as having no mangroves at all, but only bushes. The court has now directed the tehsildar to file a reply explaining the letter.

Trespassers prosecuted
In November last year, the owner of a private security firm and 39 security guards employed by him were arrested on charges of trespassing after they forcibly tried to take possession of the said plot. Mushtakeen Shaikh, owner of security firm Jet Guard Force, had come to take possession of the plot after instructions from one Harun Rashid Khan, who he said was the actual owner of the plot. The builder, Vikas Walawalkar, complained to police, who reached the spot and asked Shaikh to provide legal documents to substantiate his claims. When he could not, he and the security guards were immediately taken into custody.

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