The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lata caught in studio land tussle

Mumbai, June 11: Amitabh Bachchan and Lata Mangeshkar may have more than memories to share on their forthcoming global tour: worries over land disputes.

A land tussle between Lata and a party of independent councillors owing allegiance to a royal family in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur town has sucked the state government into an unseemly row.

The government is now faced with a PIL after rejecting the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation’s unanimous resolution to acquire part of a heritage film studio that the singer sold to a builder flouting a 65-year agreement.

Originally built and owned by the royal family that claims kinship to Shivaji, the 12-acre Jayaprabha Studio is an icon of Marathi cinema.

Rajaram Maharaj, who belonged to the family of Tararani, Shivaji’s daughter-in-law, built the studio in 1942. Four years later, he gifted it to Marathi filmmaker Bhauji Pendharkar.

But he attached two conditions: the studio land could not be sold or passed on to any person not belonging to the film fraternity. Also, the land could be used only for the purposes of cinema or its development.

When Bhauji was unable to repay a bank loan in 1957, the courts stepped in and ordered auction of the property. But the governing conditions limited their choice.

At the request of the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation, Lata was given ownership of the studio in 1959 for Rs 60,000. Lata, who began her career in Kolhapur, the womb of Marathi cinema, has an emotional attachment to the place.

“She has a declared annual income from the studio and earned Rs 30 lakh from Jayaprabha Studio in 2006, according to filed tax returns,” said Sunil Modi, a councillor belonging to Tararani Aghadi, the party of Independents that has dominated the Kolhapur municipality for years. It holds 36 of 74 seats in the civic body against 66 of 74 in 2005.

But the issue is not of income. The dispute is over Lata’s alleged use of influence with Maharashtra ministers to make changes in land use pattern in the Kolhapur Development Plan. “Under the plan, the Jayaprabha Studio land was marked as a commercial area as it was for the film industry’s use. Lataji got that changed to residential land through her clout by flouting all rules,” said Modi, who is spearheading the save-studio campaign.

His detractors say he has been put up by the Kolhapur royal family to stop Lata from selling the studio land.

“The matter is over and closed now. I don’t want to discuss this any more,” Lata said.

After getting the land status changed in 2001, Lata sold 8 acres of the studio land to a builder for a declared sum of Rs 7 crore to construct a mall.

“The KMC opposed this unanimously. It first offered to buy out the land from her. When she refused, all 77 corporators irrespective of party affiliation passed a resolution in December 2006 to acquire the land and build a cultural centre for good cinema and a park, as per Rajaram Maharaj’s conditions,” said Modi.

Lata is believed to have approached Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in May, when the notification of the resolution appeared in the government gazette. Within weeks, the state government rejected the KMC resolution under an invalid act.

“The government has bent over backwards and flouted all rules for Lataji. They have used the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act to strike down the resolution, but interestingly, the act has no provisions under which the government can take such a decision. So we have decided to go to court,” said Modi. Modi and Kolhapur’s councillors plan to go on a hunger strike from June 21 to push the case.

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