Maharashtra to drop review plea on houses on forest land

In what will be a relief to nearly 1.50 million people, the Maharashtra government has decided to withdraw a review plea in the Supreme Court on the contentious issue of residential homes on the periphery of forests in Mumbai and Thane

The Maharashtra government has decided to withdraw a review plea in the Supreme Court on the contentious issue of nearly 1.50 million people living on the periphery of forests in Mumbai and Thane, an official said here Wednesday.

In 2008, the Bombay High Court had declared around half a million homes illegal as they were built on private forest land, making them "encroachers" overnight.

In January this year, the Supreme Court set aside the Bombay High Court ruling, but the state government filed a review petition before the apex court.

The apex court had ruled that the state government cannot be allowed to demolish the massive constructions made over the years by declaring the disputed lands as "private forest" after long and inordinate delays.

It said that citizens who had invested huge amounts should not be made to suffer for the silence of the state for decades as the issue was never raised by the state when it should have been raised.

"The Maharashtra government has decided not to pursue and to withdraw the review petition... This will provide relief to nearly 1.50 million people who were directly affected," said Congress legislator Charan Singh Sapra.

Since the high court ruling, Sapra had pursued the matter relentlessly with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and other leaders as it spelt doom for nearly 500,000 families in Borivli, Kandivali, Mulund (in Mumbai) and Virar, Badlapur, Ambernath and Thane in the adjoining Thane district.

"I apprised them of the seriousness of the issue, especially as the residents were not at fault in the matter. The CM discussed the matter with the concerned legal authorities and today decided to withdraw the review petition before the Supreme Court," Sapra said.

The matter was first highlighted in 2002 by Bombay Environment Action Group which filed a PIL on the encroachment of nearly 1000 acres of private forest land in Mumbai, Thane and surroundings.

As the matter continued in the courts, more than 270 big and small housing and developmental projects worth billions of rupees had ground to a halt till the apex court verdict this year.

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