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MUMBAI: Maharashtra Lokayukta ML Tahaliyani has asked Grand Hyatt hotel to surrender the open space meant for a garden to the BMCby March 31 next year.

The hotel, located in Kalina, has been holding on the plot despite public protests and an order by the BMC to vacate it.

The Lokayukta’s order comes after the hotel management earlier this year returned another open space but refused to hand over the plot reserved for a garden.

Local residents have been fighting a bitter battle against the five-star hotel to take back the two plots since 2015. Tired of waiting for the hotel to hand over a vast open space for almost two years, citizen groups and residents of the area had even launched an indefinite hunger strike in December last year. In March 2015, the then municipal chief Sitaram Kunte had ordered a probe into irregularities at the five-star hotel and asked it to hand over two plots measuring 3,000 sq mt and 3,900 sq mt that the hotel used for weddings and events.

Following the protest by residents, the Lokayukta issued a notice to municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta asking him to inquire into municipal employees’ inaction, if any, in the matter and assign responsibility for the delay in reclaiming the land.

With the Lokayukta stepping in, the BMC forced the hotel to hand over a 3,000 sq mt plot reserved as an amenity space. The hotel gave up the plot in February this year. “But there is one more 3,900 sq mt plot that is reserved for a garden. This is the largest open space in the area but it is still in the hotel’s possession. Once it is given back to the BMC, we will ask the BMC to develop a garden here,” said former Congress corporator Brian Miranda.

Mumbai Mirror has carried a series of reports on the tussle between the five-star hotel and Kalina residents over the open space. While the hotel stopped using the open space to hold parties in June, part of it is still occupied by a tennis court and a chiller machine.

“At the Lokayukta’s hearing last month, the hotel claimed that they wanted more time to remove the chilling machine since the entire hotel’s cooling operates from that machine. Once they find some alternate space, they will hand over the plot. They have sought time till March 31 to hand over the plot. We will take it back in March and submit a compliance report to the Lokayukta,” said a senior civic official.

The hotel, which stands on a 12-acre plot, is owned by Juniper Hotels Private Limited.

The Grand Hyatt hotel on its part claimed that they got approvals for a revised layout of the plot in September this year and they began work on relocating the chiller and handing over the plots only after that. “We had explained the situation (about the chilling machine being housed on the plot) to Lokayukta and accordingly the time to hand over the plot was extended. Our revised layout was approved on September 12, 2017, thereafter the work was initiated and ordering of equipment was done. We will hand over the plot immediately once the shifting of cooling towers is completed. Work for relocating the cooling machine is in progress,” a hotel spokesperson said in an emailed statement in response to Mumbai Mirror’s queries.

Illegal constructions

In October last year, the BMC granted Mumbai police sanction to prosecute Grand Hyatt’s top management, including Amit Saraf, senior vice-president of the hotel, for illegal constructions at the property.

“The BMC must send a reminder to the hotel and make sure that the plot is handed over by March. If there is any delay we will request the Lokayukta to initiate action against errant BMC officials,” Miranda said.