Much ado about nothing

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Various allegations against Justice Manjunath had stalled his elevation as chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High court. But a probe has found these false

By India Legal Team in Bangalore


 Of late, judicial appointments have become a hot potato with allegations of how they are being influenced by various powers that be. The latest victim of such a controversy has been Justice KL Manjunath of the Karnataka High Court, who was to be elevated to the post of Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court. 

There were media reports that he had heard a case where his personal interest was involved, apart from sundry charges against his family members. It stonewalled his app-ointment. Apart from this, two complaints against Justice Manjunath were sent by
F Furquan, a RTI activist, to the president in October 2013. The then chief justice of India, P Sathasivam, conducted an inquiry and exonerated Justice Manjunath.

Furquan had alleged that Justice Manjunath had not disclosed his assets to the chief justice and had assets that were disproportionate to his income.

UNDER ATTACK

Justice Manjunath is under attack for an order passed in 2005 by the Karnataka High Court regarding Vyalikaval House Building Cooperative Society Ltd v/s Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). It was alleged here that an order was passed by Justice Manjunath to favor a friend.

In this case, BDA had cancelled the layout plan of the society on a complaint lodged by a 3rd party even without issuing notice to the society. Upon this, Justice Manjunath passed an order on July 5, 2005, in the presence of the complainant who had filed an impleading application, directing BDA to hear all the parties and then decide.

It said: “Liberty is granted to the BDA to issue notice to the petitioner furnishing a copy of the complaint said to have been lodged against the petitioner-society and after giving an opportunity for the petitioner to substantiate its case, shall dispose of the complaint said to have been lodged against the petitioner on merits and in accordance with law.”

But after examining the writ petition and order, legal experts say that sending back a matter to the authorities (in this case, the BDA), where the principles of natural justice had been violated was a normal practice and did not show any illegality. “One can say that the said order did not decide any title or declared any interest in favor of any one. It only asked the authority to stick to law while dealing with a complaint made before it.”

The other allegations are that Justice Manjunath purchased a property in the name of his daughter who was not earning. This allegation was incorrect, say sources, as the property was purchased by selling an earlier site held by his daughter and the entire amount was paid by cheque. Also, Justice Manjunath had declared before the High Court that the developer/seller was one of his close family friends.

FILED STATEMENT OF ASSETS

Enquiries made by India Legal show that after taking over as additional judge of the Karnataka High Court in December 2000, he had filed statements of his and his wife’s assets, along with that of his daughter, son and mother-in-law. Five years later, in October 2006, he further declared the details of the site purchased by his daughter, which was then sold and also about another piece of land bought by his mother-in-law.

Sources close to Justice Manjunath said that the allegations were made to ensure that he does not get elevated. Copies of the complaints were sent to all the judges of the Supreme Court and the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court. It seemed like a concerted campaign was on.

Those supporting Justice Manjunath claim that the campaign against the judge was probably at the behest of some members of the higher judiciary.

Those who are sympathetic to Justice Manjunath’s plight say that on August 25, 2014, over 25 senior advocates, including two former advocate generals, an additional advocate general, three former chairmen of the Karnataka State Bar Council and the president of the Bangalore Advocates Association, wrote to the Chief Justice of India that they suspected that the campaign against the judge was probably at the behest of some members of the higher judiciary. They said that properties belonging to others had been falsely attributed to Justice Manjunath. They said that in his long years in the judiciary he did not have any allegations against him other than the one that had tarnished his image. In fact, when his elevation was objected to and stalled due to the allegations, legal fraternity of the state of Karnataka on September 26, 2014, abstained from court for a day showing their solidarity with Justice Manjunath.

Enquiries showed that the allegation that the judge’s son, who is a practicing lawyer in the Supreme Court, owned a flat in Golf Links in Delhi was false as he stayed in a rented house in Mayur Vihar with three of his friends. There was an allegation that he owned a BMW 7 Series car. He actually drives a Maruti Swift.

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