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The Supreme Court Tuesday issued notice to Maharashtra and 11 gram panchayats in the state on the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust’s plea challenging a Bombay High Court order to pay Rs.129 crore property tax to the village councils.

The vacation bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Deepak Verma and comprising Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan restrained the gram panchayats in Raigad district from initiating any ‘coercive action’ against the trust for recovering Rs.129 crore till the next hearing.

Justice Verma said that ‘at one point we thought of asking the trust to deposit the said amount with the gram panchayats but then thought how they (trust) would recover the amount from the gram panchayat if the matter was decided in their (trust’s) favour?’.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust has challenged the Bombay High Court order to pay Rs.129.57 crore to the village panchayats as property tax.

Appearing for the trust, senior counsel P.S. Patwalia told the apex court that initially the amount of property tax sought by the gram panchayats was Rs.58 crore, which rose to Rs.129 crore by the time the matter reached the high court.

He claimed the actual amount would not be more than Rs.8-9 crore.

Patwalia said that in a sense the port trust comes under the central government and there was no doubt on making the payment if the ruling went against it.

Patwalia told the court that gram panchayats of 11 villages of Raigad district knew that petitions for the stay of recovery proceedings were pending before the standing committee – appellate body of the Raigad Zilla Parishad, which is to be constituted – yet with ‘ulterior motives’ they moved the high court.

The trust was constituted in year 1982 under the Major Port Trusts Act, 1966.

In 1983-84, the Maharashtra government acquired lands from 78 villages in Thane and Kolaba districts for setting up Navi Mumbai. Out of this land pool, the trust was given 2,987 hectare land from 12 villages for setting up major port.

This land included government land, private land and salt pan land. Under the local laws in the state, the 11 gram panchayats are entitled to collect property tax from those occupying land under their jurisdiction

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