"Anything which is illegal needs to be demolished. We agree with that, but at this stage we would like to first hear the arguments to satisfy our judicial conscience. Demolition is a drastic step," said the division bench of Justices Ranjana Desai and R G Ketkar.
The court was hearing the petition filed by the society, challenging the demolition order passed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in January. The ministry ordered the demolition of the 31-storey building after concluding that it was unauthorised and had violated several norms. The society had got three months's time to file appeal.
The high court on Wednesday posted the matter for hearing on April 27. But before that, the judges observed, "We are assured that the MOEF would maintain status quo until the court decides the case. Nothing drastic will happen. In case it does, the society can rush to the court immediately."
"In any case, the building is empty. There is no water and electricity supply. So the society is not going to get any benefit if it is not demolished. We are not saying MOEF does not have a good case. Maybe after hearing the arguments we would direct demolition but before passing any direction the court needs to hear the case," they added.
Additional Solicitor General Darius Khambata, appearing for MOEF, said that Adarsh did not take any permission or clearance before the construction, which started in 2003. "They never came for permission. The building is illegal and needs to be demolished," he added.
"But is demolition the only solution? What is the alternative? Can't the society approach the ministry for clearance now as in the case of Lavasa Corporation? Or maybe the building could be put to some other use," Justice Desai said during the arguments.
To this, Khambata said if the society wanted clearance now, it should say so and apply to the MOEF.
Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi, Adarsh's lawyer, argued that the construction was completed several years ago. "All permissions were taken then. How can the ministry say now that everything is illegal?"
In a related development, the division bench adjourned another petition filed by the society, which seeks a direction to the Central Bureau of Investigation to de-freeze its bank accounts till April 26.
The CBI, which is conducting the probe into Adarsh scam, has attached the society's bank accounts. On January 29, the agency registered a case against 14 persons, including former Maharashtra chief minister AshokChavan, retired army officials, bureaucrats and state government officials for criminal conspiracy, fraud and misuse of official powers while granting various permissions to the society.