82 judges allotted plots of land at dirt cheap rates in Karnataka:-
Eight two judges have been allotted plots of land at dirt cheap rates in Karnataka in violation of rules; and in doing so they have also disregarded various judgments of high court and Supreme Court.
The sites in question were allotted to the judges at concessional rates by the Karnataka Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society in alleged violation of its own bye-laws.
House building cooperative societies, by definition, are meant for the poor and needy. Essentially, for employees who cannot afford to buy land or a house at market rates.
Moreover, such allotments are meant only for employees of the judicial department, who are government servants. Numerous judgments by high court and Supreme Court have held that judges are constitutional authorities and not judicial employees.
For instance, in the case of Union of India vs Sankal Chand Himatlal Sheth and others, on September 19, 1977, a five-judge constitutional Bench observed: “A judge of the high court is not a government servant, but he is the holder of a constitutional office. He is as much part of the State as the executive government… In fact, a High Court Judge has no employer: he occupies a high constitutional office…”
The observation by the Karnataka high court in the case of Narayan Reddy vs State of Karnataka was reported (in ILR 1991 KAR2248) as: “In case of House Building societies formed in respect of employees of any organisation or industry, the membership should be confined only to the employees who may continue as members even after retirement and the Societies should be prohibited from enrolling outsiders as members.”
This indicates that only employees of the judicial department —and not retired or sitting judges — are eligible to become members of the society and be allotted sites at concessional rates.
Justice MF Saldanha, who retired from as a judge of the Karnataka high court, agrees. “You have to be a judicial employee and the second requirement is that you cannot have an allotment in any other society to get a site. A cooperative society is a special privilege. Only people who need houses can avail the sites there. A high court or a Supreme Court judge is a constitutional functionary, not a judicial employee. Hence they cannot avail the sites.”
The list in possession of DNA shows that former chief justice of Chhattisgarh high court (2002-2004), Justice KHN Kuranga, whose name is doing the rounds as the ideal successor to Hegde as Karnataka Lokayukta, is among the 82 judges who were allotted sites in violation of the Society’s bye-laws.
Justice Kuranga was allotted a 9,600-sq ft plot of land under Allalasandra, Chikkabommasandra and Jakkur Plantation villages and Yelahanka hobli in March 2000 for just `2.94 lakh. The current market value is `3.84 crore.
Justice Kuranga says: “Yes I have bought a site. I became a member of Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society and then bought the site. How far is it a violation, you will have to ask the society.”
Justice Kuranga may not see it as a violation but Justice Dhingra, who retired as a judge of the Delhi high court sees it in a different light. He says: “Getting plots from executive is contrary to our judicial ethics. All these favours do not come for free; even a cup of tea is not free these days. So when a favour is taken something is expected in return too.”
The list also includes Justice SR Bannurmath’s name, whom chief minister DV Sadananda Gowda wants to install as the next Lok Ayukta. Justice Bannurmath was allotted a site in Allalasandra, Chikkabommasandra and Jakkur Plantation villages by the Society as per a sale deed dated September 19, 2001. He bought the 6,600-sq ft plot for `2.02 lakh, but the current market value of the plot is Rs2.64 crore.
Senior Counsel Ravivarma Kumar says, “The entire judicial employees housing society is a black mark on Karnataka judiciary. It is in the interest of the judiciary to publish a white paper giving all the details of site allotments in favour of various members and to publish the same for the benefit of public scrutiny.”
He adds: “It is very unfortunate that the chief minister of the state has said there is no suitable person to adorn the post of Lok Ayukta. This layout has become a nightmare for the judiciary. It should be put to an end at the earliest.”
Former chairman of Karnataka Bar Council, Sadashiv Reddy, says, “The Judges have definitely violated the bye-laws. Judicial Employees House Building Co-operative Society is meant only for members of judiciary which includes only the district and the subordinate judges and not the high court judges. Hence there has been a violation.”
However, former Advocate General of Karnataka High Court Uday Holla says the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition challenging allotment of sites to high court judges by such societies. The petitioners had challenged that as per the bye-laws the sitting judges of the high court cannot get sites at the Judicial employees House building Co-operative Society which is meant only for members of the judiciary (judicial employees).
Be that as it may, accepting sites at concessional rates (and, in some cases, accepting multiple sites) should go against the morality of men of justice.
Retired Delhi High Court Justice RS Sodhi says, “This practice should stop. These things are a blot on our democratic set up. Once you, as a Judge, start taking favours, a wrong message goes out to the society which is bad for our institution as a whole.”