Justice is blind: Judges allotted land illegally in Karnataka

Several Judges, including 2 from SC, got plots in a judicial layout in brazen violation of rules ….   Imran Khan   … Bengaluru

The plot which Justice SR Bannurmath was allotted in the judicial layout in contravention of rules. Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj has rejected the recommendation for appointing Bannurmath as Lokayukta because of the land controversy

……………. Posted on 17 November 2011

Even as Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj has rejected the recommendation for appointing Justice SR Bannurmath as Lokayukta because he was allotted a plot in the judicial layout in contravention of rules, it has emerged that two sitting Supreme Court Judges and 14 High Court Judges have also been allotted plots in the layout in Bengaluru by the co-operative housing society for employees of the Karnataka judicial department.

Justice TS Thakur and HL Dhattu of the Supreme Court have been allotted sites by the Karnataka State Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society in violation of the Karnataka Co-operative Society Act, 1959.

Documents in possession of Tehelka show that 82 members of the judiciary, including eight retired SC judges and two former Chief Justices of India (CJIs), have been allotted houses in the layout despite the fact that judges are not judicial employees. Justice Shivaraj V Patil has already been forced to resign as Karnataka Lokayukta after it was revealed that his name figured in a list of Judges who had been allotted houses in the layout.

Other prominent names from the judiciary who have been allotted sites in the layout include Justices C R Kumarswamy, Vasudevan Jaganathan, H N Nagamohan Das, Ajit J Gunjal, NK Patil, N Kumar, AB Hinchigeri, Anand Byrareddy, S Abdul Nazeer and Mohan M Shanthanagoudar–all sitting members of the Karnataka High Court. All the allotments have been made in violation of Clauses 10 (B) and 53 of the by-laws of the Karnataka State Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society.

Clause 10 (B) clearly states that to be eligible for sites/flats/houses she/he must be “an employee of the judicial department in Karnataka and has put in a minimum continuous or intermittent service of five years in Karnataka”. And Clause 53 says, “The society shall allot sites/flats/houses only to members who are eligible as per by-law number 10. A member shall produce a certificate from his employer regarding his employment and length of service in Karnataka.”

In fact, the Joint House Committee report on land encroachment, submitted to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council in 2007, is scathing in its comments on the functioning of the State Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society and the judicial fraternity. “It has been unfortunate that the Karnataka State Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society, which should have been a model for other house building cooperative societies, has itself become the leading law-breaker without the least fear or care of law, propriety or public interest. It has indulged in acts of favour, cronyism and capricious indifference to law at will, obviously under the hubris that having High Court Judges and powerful persons as its members and beneficiaries will ensure immunity to all its illegal acts. What is more disquieting is the readiness with which sitting High Court Judges, who are not ‘employees’ under any government but are constitutional functionaries… should have eagerly become members of the HBCS and obtained sites. It is seen that some of them obtained sites not only for themselves but their kith and kin who are not judicial employees either,” the report says.

Thakur was allotted site number 1273 in 1996-97, when he was a sitting judge at the Karnataka High Court. He had paid Rs 1, 54,453 for a site measuring 5,436 sq ft at the judicial layout in Yelahanka.

Dattu was allotted site number 2095 at the same layout for which he had paid a meager sum of Rs 61,598 in 1997-98, when he was also a sitting judge of the Karnataka High Court.

It is noteworthy that the Karnataka High Court in 1991 in the case of Narayana Reddy vs the State of Karnataka observed: “In case of house building societies formed in respect of employees of any organisation or industry, the membership should be confined to the employees who may continue as members even after retirement and the societies should be prohibited from enrolling outsiders as members.”

Subsequently, on 12 October, 1995, in the case of Subramani versus Union of India, the High Court said: “A reading of Clause 7 of the by-laws, in our view, by no stretch of imagination can include the judges of High Court or Supreme Court (sitting, transferred, retired).” The said clause dealt with the eligibility criteria for membership.

Thereby, the above-mentioned Judges have also not complied with these observations, and further have in their names or in the names of their family members sites/flats/house additional to the mentioned allotment in the judicial layout as mentioned in their asset declarations. The eight retired judges of Supreme Court–Justices GT Nanavati, RV Raveendran, MN Venkatachalaiah, S Rajendrababu, P Venkatarama Reddy, Shivraj V Patil, NG Venkatachala and K Jagannatha Shetty–have also violated the same clauses of the Act because they have been allotted sites by the society.

According to documents available with Tehelka, Nanavati, of the one-man Nanavati Commission, which probed the Gujarat riots of 2002, got site number 2070 allotted in his favour on 14 October, 1999, at the Yelahanka Judicial Layout. He was also the Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court from September 1994-March 1995 and Chief Justice of Orrissa High Court from January 1994-September 1994. MN Venkatachalaiah, former CJI (February 1993-October 1994) was allotted site number 1295, measuring 5,400 sq ft, in 1997-98 for Rs 1, 53,600 and S Rajendra Babu, who also served as CJI for almost a month (May 2004-June 2004) was allotted site number 1389, measuring 9,605 sq ft, in 1994-95 for Rs 4, 44,398, when he was a judge at the High Court of Karnataka.

The other four retired judges, according to the documents, have also violated the Act and are not in compliance with Supreme Court and High Court observations.

REACTIONS

P Venkatarama Reddy: “The allotment was done long time ago. As far my knowledge goes, more than 100 Judges have been allotted sites. A PIL has been pending regarding this. Whether Judges are employees of the judiciary or not is the larger question?” When asked to comment on the JLC report, Reddy said, “I don’t want to comment on it.”

M Rama Jois, Former Karnataka High Court Judge: “I have been member of the society from the beginning. There is no irregularity.”

GT Nanavati: “I do not want to talk about it.”

Justice S Mohan: “I do not want to talk about it.”

Justice V Gopala Gowda, Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court: “I do not want to comment.”

Justices Dhattu and Rajendrababu were unavailable for comment.

***See profiles of Judges and details of land sale

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