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Order to demolish Arundhati bungalow - Illegal land row

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RASHEED KIDWAI   |   Published 22.04.11, 12:00 AM

Bhopal, April 21: Arundhati Roy’s hilltop bungalow in a protected forest area will be demolished, a Madhya Pradesh revenue court ruled today upholding a lower court’s judgment that the land was acquired illegally.

The bungalow at Bariyam village in Panchmarhi, 250km southeast of Bhopal, stands on a 4,346sqft plot that the author’s husband, filmmaker Pradeep Kishan, had bought in 1994.

In an eight-page verdict, Bhopal-Hoshangabad division commissioner Manoj Srivastava rejected the petitioners’ plea of ignorance of the law. “Ignorance cannot be a shield against the law,” he observed.

The judgment will also affect the bungalows of three of the couple’s neighbours: writer Vikram Seth’s sister Anuradha, forest officer Nishkant Jhadav, and medical practitioner Jagdish Chandra Sharma.

Sushil Goyal, their common lawyer, said his clients would appeal before the state’s board of revenue.

Legal experts said the petitioners had few options. If the board of revenue rejected their plea, they could approach Madhya Pradesh High Court. But the high court had in the past rejected their plea for a stay on a sub-divisional magistrate’s judgment that had declared the bungalows illegal.

Arundhati’s is a familiar face in Madhya Pradesh because of her close ties with the Narmada anti-dam campaign. Soon after winning the Booker in 1997, she had angered the state government by joining Medha Patkar’s battle for rehabilitation of the dam oustees.

The state government had petitioned the naib tehsildar of Piparya against Kishan’s bungalow on the ground that the Madhya Pradesh Forest Act, 1972, barred buying and selling of notified forestland.

On November 30 last year, sub-divisional magistrate V. Kirangopal upheld the revenue department’s stand that the bungalow was illegal.

Hearing Kishan’s appeal, Srivastava ruled that the land acquisition would be illegal even if the wildlife protection norms were not enforced. He said the applicants had violated Sections 109 and 110 of the MP Land Revenue Courts Act, 1959, during mutation of the plots.

Section 109 says that mutation of a plot is invalid if the land has been acquired either in violation of the law or in ignorance of the legal provisions.

Arundhati’s bungalow overlooks twin hillocks and vast rolling greens. A small water body heightens the picture-postcard effect. Those who have been in the house say it is tastefully furnished.

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