In the eyes of the law, everyone is equal. but a case of a senior judge shows how rules can be subverted with impunity.
By Ramesh Menon
Recent weeks have seen a hullabaloo over judicial accountabi-lity. And it is time for judges to unemotionally examine what is happening within th-eir own fraternity. This is all the more imperative when irregularities are being brought to the attention of the court.
Justice Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, raised a hornet’s nest recently when he made wild allegations questioning the integrity of the late Justice Ashok Kumar. There are many others who haven’t been pulled up by the judiciary or even investigated in spite of serious charges. While insiders are well aware of numerous controversies within the judiciary, this still hasn’t become a subject of public debate. When Justice BS Chauhan was the chief justice of the Orissa High Court, it was Justice Katju who recommended his elevation as a Supreme Court judge ignoring numerous allegations against him.
Justice BS Chauhan, retired from the Supreme Court (SC) this year and is presently chairman, Cauvery Water Disputes Tribu-nal. He was a senior judge of the Allahabad High Court when he passed an order asking the CBI to inquire into irregularities in the allotment of residential plots by Noida Authority. Was he taking a high moral ground when he did so? Investigations into his likely intent make for interesting reading.
In a surprising move, Noida Authority made the allotments, but cancelled these within hours. It defended this behaviour saying that a news item in The Times of India suggested that there were irregularities in the allotment. When this was challenged, Justice Chauhan in July 2007 upheld the cancellation and asked for a CBI investigation.
According to the interlocutory application filed in his special leave petition (SLP) in November 2007, Delhi-based lawyer Kamal Kapoor, whose allotment was among the 625 that were cancelled, claimed that Justice Chauhan had in a letter on January 13, 2005, written to a Noida official demanding allotment of two plots in the housing scheme. However, he did not get the plots.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. The SLP pointed out that on April 6, 2005, Justice Chauhan wrote another letter to a Noida official with a copy to CEO, Noida, indicating that Tata Consultancy Services be appointed to conduct the draw of lots for the residential plots that he was interested in. He still persevered and on April 29, 2005, he shot off a letter to deputy CEO, Noida, referring to the conversation he had regarding the plots in Noida. He said he was sending one Sunil Chaudhary with two application forms for allotment in the housing scheme.
When CNN-IBN sni-ffed a news story here and planned to air it, Justice Chauhan got Swatantra Singh, the registrar-general, High Court of Judicature at Allahabad, to shoot off three letters on July 30, 2007, to the managing director of the channel, saying that he had not written three such letters and that they were all forged. Kapoor said he wished that Justice Cha-uhan’s stand had been true, but he had to prove irregularities to ensure the dignity of the judiciary was maintained.
To buttress his allegations, Kapoor attached copies of the letter showing that application 152139, dated December 30, 2004, was in the name of Beena Singh, whose residential address was 474, Sector 15A, Noida. This, incidentally, was the residence of Justice Chauhan. The second application form, 0163503, dated December 31, 2004, was in the name of Raj Kumari, sister-in-law of Justice Chauhan.
Both applications were filed on the last date of the scheme and did not carry the PAN number of the applicants. In the draw of lots on July 2, 2005, neither of these names got a plot. As the application carried his address, Justice Chauhan should have ideally withdrawn from hearing the writ of Kapoor challenging the cancellation of allotment after the draw. Instead, he chose to ignore the SLP of a successful allottee and heard a PIL filed by Manav Sewa Samiti upholding the cancellation of computerized draw.
Interestingly, Justice Chauhan was a standing counsel for Noida Authority before he was appointed judge. In 1979, he had got a plot—Plot No F-1 in Sector 6—in an auction for a cinema hall. The Noida Authority found that it was not a proper place for a hall and another site in Sector 5 was offered. Kapoor’s SLP said that Justice Chauhan managed to get allotment of Plot K-1 in Sector 18 for a cinema hall, but got it converted into a shopping complex in collusion with officials. “After the allotment in Sector 18, he should have surrendered the plot which he got in Sector 6. But the same was also leased to him by changing the user from commercial to industrial purposes and sold subsequently to Mirza Tanners Ltd,” the petition said.
By hook or by crook
For execution of the lease deeds, Justice Chauhan formed a partnership firm, M/s Chaudhary Ajab Singh & Co., where he was one of the partners. According to a judgment on May 1, 1987, passed by the Additional Dis-trict Judge III Ghaziabad, Justice Chauhan had procured a benami residential plot, Plot No 427 in Sector 15 A, which measured 456 square meter. The judgment observed that Justice Chauhan had got the lease deed of the plot executed in the name of the firm to avoid paying income tax and seriously reflected upon the conduct of the plaintiff.
The judgment said: “He has admitted to have evaded income tax. This income certificate has no correlation with the disputed plot. The plaintiff has not been able to prove that he is the real owner of the disputed plot. He is, therefore, not entitled to the relief
The CBI enquiry did not find anything out of order in spite of the fact that many of those who had been allotted flats were VIPs. Justice Aftab Alam of the Supreme Court at that time said that this application should not have been filed as it was in bad taste, being filed by a lawyer. Kapoor demanded a judicial inquiry into the conduct of Justice Chauhan, as he was associated with the allotments and chose to hear the case and cancel the allotment when he was not favoured.
So why shouldn’t this case be probed too? Should the courts not have taken notice of it? In the eyes of the law, everyone is equal, but it seems some are more equal than others.
When Justice BS Chauhan was the high court judge, Sadhna Chaudhary, an additional district judge, who was also his classmate, alleged that he had exploited and harassed her. She said he had also approached her for some favours. Her petition against Justice Chauhan before the Allahabad High Court was dismissed and no investigations were ordered by the judiciary into the serious allegations. In fact, her services were terminated.