Subhash Ghai's Whistling Woods gets interim relief

A file picture of Bollywood Film Director, Producer and Screenwriter, Subhash Ghai addressing a press meet at The Press Club, Mumbai. Photo:Shashi Ashiwal  

Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods International Film Training Institute will, for now, be able to retain its campus in the Film City in Mumbai. The institute got an interim relief from the Bombay High Court on Wednesday. But it has also been directed to shell out Rs 10.38 Crore.

According to the Bombay High Court’s own order of 2012, the institute had been directed to vacate the campus sprawling over 5.5 acres land, by July 31, 2014. Recently, Mukta Arts and Whistling Woods International had filed a review petition in the Bombay High Court against the 2012 order.

On Wednesday, the court admitted the petition and granted conditional stay on its past order. Mukta Arts will now have to pay Rs 10.38 Crore to Maharashtra Film, Stage and Cultural Development Corporation (MFSCDC) in six instalments.

Of the Rs 10.38 Crore, Rs 1.38 Crore are to be paid immediately by August 11. Thereafter, the remaining Rs Nine Crore are to be deposited in five equal monthly instalments of Rs 1.80 Crore each. The amount is licence fees for occupying the land from the year 2000 till 2014. Now, pending the hearing of the petition, Mukta Arts will also have to pay Rs 45 Lakh per year starting from the financial year 2014-15.

After pleading through most part of the day that the institute was not in a position to pay anything to the government, Whistling Woods later volunteered to pay the amount to the government in lieu of being allowed to continue to function from the premise.

Mukta Arts has pegged the valuation of its campus building along with the machinery and infrastructure, at Rs 153 Crore.

The Government of Maharashtra, represented by Advocate General Darius Khambatta, vociferously opposed the Review Petition. Mr Khambatta questioned the maintainability of the petition, and pleaded that it deserved to be dismissed.

“The umbrage is that this is a case where there has been no allotment to the Whistling Woods or to the Film Development Corporation. There is no resolution by the government saying the land should be developed for the film institute. Even the Film Development Corporation (MFSCDC) does not say that,” he argued.

Over 2.5 years ago, his office had pleaded in a diametrically opposite manner when a PIL had been filed against former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh for arbitrary use of power to grant land to Mr Ghai’s institute. Then, his office had tried to protect Mr Deshmukh and his action. The court had passed a stinging order against Mr Deshmukh, observing that he had arbitrarily and illegally exercised his power.

On Wednesday, Mr Khambatta argued how Mr Deshmukh “happened to be standing there when the Joint Venture was being signed between Whistling Woods and MD of Film Development Corporation to give his blessings.”

“This is the most arbitrary and illegal exercise of power. There was no allotment, no application of mind, no procedure followed. The CAG had valued the land at Rs 31 Crore and questioned how it was effectively given at Rs Three crores,” he argued.

Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, representing Mukta Arts, made an emotional appeal. He said Mr Ghai would be a ruined man if the order was not reviewed. “The consequence of the judgement is that it will destroy a world-class institute. There is no intent ever to make money. The government did not give us licence for making money. We can’t give any money,” Mr Chinoy said during the arguments.

But later the counsel for Whistling Woods, Janak Dwarkadas offered to pay Rs 10 Crore to MFSCDC. “Why destroy the institute if the Lordships hear the matter? The State government says it wants to utilise the same building for campus of television institute and National School of Drama. Why reinvent the wheel? A world-class institute is already there,” Mr Dwarkadas argued.

The court, while passing the order, upheld that “in the interest of all concerned, it is better not to disturb the running of the institute by the petitioner in pendency of the review petition.”

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 9:21:34 PM |

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