The Bombay High Court on Friday observed that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) action against Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut were "out of malice" and quashed the demolition notice issued against her property in Bandra, Mumbai. The MCGM, an organ of the state, exercised its power which could be summed up "as bad in law and lacking in bonafides", the high court said.
"It is nothing but malice in law," the high court observed.
However, even as it pulled up the municipal body for its wrong and willful act, the high court also advised Ranaut to exercise restraint when she tweeted on issues of public importance on social media platforms.
The high court, in its 166-paged verdict, said the timeline of events "lends credence" to Ranaut's case that MCGM partially demolished her bungalow in retaliation to her tweet where she stated that she was openly threatened by Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut.
The high court also directed the appointment of a valuer—Ranaut would bear the cost of his expenses—who will determine the extent of compensation payable to her on account of the demolition work already undertaken. The actor may also take steps to make the bungalow habitable and can immediately start occupying and using the same.
"However, to the extent, any demolished portion requires planning permission and such permission is not in place, reconstruction of such portion can only be made either in compliance with the sanctioned plan or after seeking approval of the MCGM for the work proposed. In the event any application is made, the MCGM shall decide the same within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of such application/plan," the high court added.
In its detailed order, the high court further observed that the MCGM has done something "without lawful excuse". "It proceeded to act "wrongfully and wilfully without reasonable or probable cause"; its act can only be described as a deliberate act in disregard of the rights of a citizen…, the division bench said.
MCGM acted wrongfully and wilfully: HC
After scrutinising the photographs of the property, the division bench comprising Justices SJ Kathawalla and RI Chagla concluded that the MCGM had proceeded against Ranaut on wrongful grounds. The court further ruled that there was no unauthorised construction on Ranaut's property as the municipal body alleged. Existing work was going on at the property as opposed to illegal alterations, it added.
The MCGM objected to Ranaut's plea as "an afterthought, in order to defeat" her rights. The MCGM acted in an "ex-facie illegal, arbitrary, unjustified and highhanded and malafide manner. The actions of the MCGM is "an abuse of power and authority" since it ignored statutory provisions, court guidelines, as well as of its own Circulars.
"Even if one assumes that the malice does not amount to personal bias and may call for a trial, it does amount to legal malice," the high court said.
The court clarified that it does not "countenance unauthorised construction, and also does not approve of loose and irresponsible statements against any individual, authority or Government".
Irresponsible statements however distasteful are best ignored
The high court said that it did not "accept as true any of the statements/allegations" Ranaut made "through her tweets with regard to the alleged prevailing atmosphere in the State or the State Police or against the Film industry."
"If anything, the court said, it was of the view that Ranaut should "be better advised to exercise restraint when "as a public-spirited person", she "airs her views regarding issues of public importance on social media platforms...".
"Irresponsible statements made by a citizen in an individual capacity, however distasteful or wrong they may be, are best ignored. Illegal and colourable action/s on part of the State or its agencies vis-à-vis a citizen, is far too serious and damaging to society to be overlooked, the order said. "Whatever be the folly of an individual, whether in the matter of unauthorised construction, or irresponsible statements hurting the sentiments of individuals or the public in general, no action against such individual by anyone, much less by the State, can lie except within the four corners of law", it added.
By no means, colourable exercise of power or resort to threats, use of muscle power and/or causing of injury by unlawful means to such person or to his/her property, can be permitted in any civil society. Such actions are the very antithesis of the rule of law," the high court cautioned.