Bhendi Bazaar: SC stays redevelopment of building which once housed gangster Dawood

Written by Sandeep A Ashar
| Mumbai |

October 16, 2020 12:32:59 am

THE Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a stay on the redevelopment of Haji Ismail Haji Habib Musafirkhana, a building in Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazaar where gangster Dawood Ibrahim once lived.

The top court’s stay order comes as a setback to the redevelopment plans of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) that has undertaken one of the country’s largest cluster redevelopment project in Bhendi Bazaar.

A three-judge bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah was hearing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed by the Maharashtra State Board of Wakfs (MSBW), which has argued against the sale of the 11,000-square-foot property to the SBUT and its proposed redevelopment on the grounds that the premises was a Waqf property and could not be sold.

Attorney General KK Venugopal appeared for the MSBW in the SC on Thursday.

Earlier, on September 25, Mumbai civic commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal, following a representation from the SBUT, had directed the local assistant commissioner to “demolish the dilapidated building/ musafir khana by following due process of law”. Following the SC order, senior civic officials admitted the demolition plans cannot go ahead for the time being.

The two-storeyed building houses flats of the fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim on the second floor that have now been seized by the TADA court. It has a total of 32 commercial and 19 residential tenants.

In another setback to SBUT’s plans, the apex court on Thursday also ordered tagging of the matter with another ongoing case, where it has passed interim orders “restraining all those in the management of Wakf properties from alienating and/or encumbering the Wakf properties during the pendency of the court proceedings”.

The SBUT’s cluster redevelopment project involves the redevelopment of more than 3,200 households and 1,200 businesses spread over a 16.5-acre sprawl and a cluster of 280 plots.

When contacted, an SBUT spokesperson said the SC stay would only affect the redevelopment plan for the Musafirkhana building. “We are reviewing the matter and will take the necessary action as applicable,” the spokesperson added.

The MSBW had filed the SLP before the apex court challenging a December 11, 2019, order of the Bombay High Court (HC) that had earlier paved the way for the demolition of the building and its redevelopment.

Welcoming the SC stay order, Maharashtra’s Minority Development and Aukaf Minister Nawab Malik said, “Our contention is that the property in question is a Waqf property and that those in the management of the property should act as per the rules and regulations set for the administration of all such properties.”

The HC had dismissed a petition challenging the sale of the premises to the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) in 2015. Aggrieved by an order of Maharashtra’s Charity Commissioner that had permitted the Haji Ismail Haji Habib Musafirkhana Trust to sell the property to the SBUT for Rs 1.1 crore, a forum of shopkeepers and tenants of the premises — the Haji Ismail Haji Habib Musafirkhana Shop Tenant Forum — had approached the high court, contending that the permission was “illegal” and that the building was a Waqf property and could not be sold.

Contending that the premises also housed a “mosque”, the forum had argued before the HC that the charity commissioner had not taken into consideration directions issued by the Supreme Court pertaining to Muslim trusts.

Fazal Mehmood, working president of the forum, said it still stood by its argument that the trust hadn’t acted in accordance with the law, while also welcoming the SC verdict.

Arguing that the “prayer hall” on the premises could not be construed as a “mosque”, the SBUT and the trust had contested the claim that the building was a Waqf board property. The HC, rejecting the forum’s claim, had held the decision of the charity commissioner to allow the sale of the property to the SBUT as valid. It had also lifted a previous stay on the demolition of the premises. But SC’s latest order has issued a fresh stay.

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