The Gujarat high court referred to a larger bench on Tuesday the matter of alleged allotment of land to more than two dozen judges at concessional rates amid dramatic scenes with top lawyers representing the jurists appealing to acting Chief Justice VM Sahai for more time.
During the arguments, advocate general Kamal Trivedi registered his protest by stating that the bench should not hear the matter as its members too had expressed interest in getting plots at the Neetibaug Cooperative Housing Society in Ahmedabad.
Among the 28 jurists under the scanner for accepting plots from the state at subsidised rates are serving judges of the high court, a top Supreme Court judge and chief justices of two other high courts, in a case that has sparked a debate on the issues of conflict of interest and corruption in the higher judiciary.
“Yesterday, Mr Advocate General said I desired for a plot. Where is my application, Mr A-G? This is a very important matter with implications,” Justice Sahai said in a packed courtroom, warning Trivedi against adopting a “hostile attitude” on the matter. “Mr A-G, a sitting judge’s real nephew got a contract for supplying computers in the high court without due process and that was overlooked and you know who I am referring to.”
The remarks from the judge, who retires on Wednesday, stunned the lawyers present — who stressed that the “dignity and decorum” of the institution should be maintained.
The two-judge bench, comprising the acting chief justice and Justice Mohinder Pal, that was hearing a PIL on the matter rejected a collective demand of the lawyers, including the advocate general representing the state government, to give them time and a plea to restrain the media from reporting the case.
Justice Sahai also asked RTI activist Amarsinh Chavda to join the litigation while again rejecting the advocate general’s submission that the petition could not be converted into a PIL as two retired judges who had written to the acting chief justice against the plot allocation themselves wanted plots under the scheme.
“Public interest is involved here and a public-spirited activist has also joined in the petition,” remarked Justice Sahai, who was transferred from the Allahabad high court to the Gujarat high court in 2010. “Let the larger bench decide on the matter and I can assure you that I will not be a part of that bench.”
The bench also directed the Ahmedabad collector, who was present in the courtroom, to provide all documents related to the allotment of plots to the judges to anyone wishing to see the papers.
Sources said the outgoing chief justice had also decided to take on some judges who had allegedly raised their voices against him over recruitments in the high court and purchase of computer software during his tenure.
Advocate General Kamal Trivedi also insisted during the proceedings that “those issues should also be part of the larger bench’s mandate”, to which Justice Sahai retorted, “I wanted to discuss that also but they tried to test my guts, which are known to Mayawati, Mulayam and even people here.”