The court warned of contempt after noting that Nidhi Chaudhari had not written to the BMC for days about the reconstruction after its September 29 order, but chose to start a needless process for seeking CRZ clearance for the crematorium that had existed from before the norms. It ordered her to remit Rs 29.6 lakh—the estimate given by BMC—immediately so that work could start as soon as possible and directed her to file a compliance report on Friday.
This is not suburban collector Nidhi Chaudhari’s first brush with the Bombay HC. In a PIL about removal of obstructions around the Mumbai airport, the court had been concerned about the delay in taking action and asked her to speed up the process.
Criticising the collector for demolishing a Malad crematorium without due process, the judges had referred to the airport case in an earlier hearing. “The same collector, when faced with an order passed for demolition of structures in the line of landing and take-off of aircraft, takes a wholly different approach,” they had said.
“The conduct of the collector is such that the same borders on contempt,” said the judges on Thursday about the Malad case. It had been established that the crematorium on Erangal Beach, Malad (West), was demolished on February 9 without giving a hearing to the local fishing community. On September 29, the court had directed reconstruction within a month.
When the PIL came up for reporting compliance before Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar, state’s advocate Abhay Patki sought time to place details of steps taken by collector Nidhi Chaudhari. “How long does it take to comply with the court’s order? We don’t appreciate the conduct of the collector. Why no application is made seeking time? She is taking the court’s order lightly. We will issue notice for contempt. Let her answer,” said the CJ.
The judges adjourned till after lunch for Patki to ask Chaudhari if the crematorium will be constructed within the shortest possible time. Patki returned and submitted a letter written on October 10 by the deputy collector to the BMC to reconstruct the crematorium. He said the BMC replied a month later on Thursday with an estimate of Rs 29.6 lakh that has to be transferred at the earliest to complete the construction within 60 days of a work order being issued to a successful bidder.
The judges said there is no explanation for the delay of over 10 days in writing to the BMC. Moreover, on October 31, the collector wrote to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority to seek the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority’s (MCZMA) permission. The judges said it “appeared to us to be strange and surprising” because their order did not stipulate any such permission as a pre-condition since the crematorium had existed from before the February 19, 1991, notification came into force imposing CRZ restrictions.
They were inclined to issue contempt notice to Chaudhari but refrained because Patki said it took time to comply with formalities and that she had no intention to disobey the HC’s order.
“To test the bona fides of the collector”, the judges directed her to remit Rs 29.6 lakh to BMC and file a compliance report on Friday.