Wednesday, October 8, 2014

HC orders Rs 40 lakh fine for ‘sponsored litigation’

The Bombay high court has ordered a Mumbai resident to shell out Rs 40 lakhs as legal costs while dismissing his application seeking to stop the allotment of a sprawling plot in Versova to a cooperative housing society and halt development by a city builder. Calling Ashok Kulkarni's application a "sponsored litigation" Justice Patel asked him to pay Rs 20 lakhs each to Samarth Development Corporation and Apna Ghar society. SDC had said that it had spent over Rs 3 crore in fighting the case. 

"Everything points to this being a sponsored litigation, with Kulkarni having lent his name to some other entity. On his account alone, huge amounts have had to be spent in defending this and associated litigations. The present litigation is one I have found to be without the faintest glimmer of merit. It is precisely the kind of litigation — speculative lacking in bona fides, sponsored, an abuse of the process of law and of the court, and perhaps even a fraud on the Court — that our Supreme Court has repeatedly decried and deprecated, even said should be visited with exemplary and penal costs," said Justice Patel. The HC stayed its order and also asked MHADA not to hand over the land to the society till November 14, to allow time to file an appeal. 

The legal dispute was over a prime plot in Versova spread over 23 acres. Kulkarni, who was the former chief promoter of the society, claimed he was the exclusively entitled to allotment of the land, on the basis of a 1981 sale agreement and 2008 apex court order. He claimed new members had been brought in by the builder and he was illegally removed as the chief promoter in a society meeting in 2011. In an application he sought the HC to restrain SDC and the society from creating third party rights on the land. 
The HC said that the interim reliefs sought by Kulkarni could not be granted, as the land was not allotted to him personally but to the society of which he was chief promoter. The court also said that Kulkarni had not been unable to proma facie establish that the 55 members of the society were enrolled by the builder or that the members who he claimed was with him were the original members of the society. 

The court pointed out that SDC had paid over Rs 72 crores for the land to the state, Mhada and towards legal fees. The HC questioned how Kulkarni, who claimed to e retired person and who could not come up with Rs 1.5 lakhs in 2004, suddenly in 2012 fought numerous litigations and engaged senior advocates. 

"Nothing explains this incongruity; nothing, that is, except perhaps this: the land in question is about 23 acres. It is in one of Mumbai's north-western suburbs, an area substantially developed, where land values as astronomical. It is an area of enormous development potential. In short, everything points to this being nothing but a sponsored litigation at the behest of a rival developer, possibly one who saw in the occurrence of Kulkarni's name an opportunity impossible to resist, a chance well worth taking when weighed against the potential development profits.

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