Godrej against state govt. for delaying payment

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MUMBAI: Godrej Group, the city’s biggest private land owner, railed against the state government in Bombay high court on Friday for trying to keep it from getting Rs 572 crores for a 10-acre plot it has offered for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project.

Navroz Seervai, counsel for Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd said that even though the project is of national importance, the state is delaying it. The company said it is willing to give its land to the National High Speed Rail Corporation for tunnelling for the bullet train. Seervaj also said that the state wants Godrej to deposit the amount in court, questioning the “unreasonable and obstructionist attitude” of the state. If the state doesn’t relent, let them go in for the lengthy acquisition process, he added.

Justices Amjad Sayed and P D Naik asked advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to try and resolve the matter and adjourned the case to August 16.

The plot, on the western side of Eastern Express Highway in Vikhroli, is treated as “private land”. The Maharashtra government claims ownership of the plots being offered by Godrej, and a dispute is pending before the HC since 1973. The suit is about an entire Vikhroli village, a staggering area in excess of 3,300 acres.

After notice was issued to Godrej for acquisition of land near the Eastern Express Highway, the firm last year objected in the high court. It offered an alternative plot, which was accepted after Japanese experts examined it.

Instead of the protracted land acquisition process, Godrej said negotiations were carried out with the state. The collector pegged the value at Rs 229 crore — as government land. But Seervai said the market value is Rs 450 crore, and if land acquisition rules are followed, the cost would more than double. But Godrej is accepting Rs 572 crore, calculated on the basis of a 100% solatium (money given as compensation for loss) as well as an additional 25% on the collector’s estimate.

It was also agreed with the rail firm that if Godrej loses the land ownership suit, it would return the amount without interest. Seervai said the “state would get a windfall of over Rs 340 crore” and it is “shocking” it wants interest.

The ownership suit, which lay dormant with no interim orders against Godrej, is close to being concluded. “Only one witness of ours remains,” said Seervai, and then it will be up for arguments and judgment.

Additional solicitor general Anil Singh, appearing for NHSRCL, told the court that the amount, if it has to be returned, must come with interest. He expressed concern that if the state wins the land title, NHSRCL ought not to be laden with any additional monetary burden.

Source: ET Realty