Karnataka high court judge K L Manjunath – who is being backed by the judges’ collegium for a promotion despite the central government’s opposition – had illegally bought a prime plot from a housing society in 2004 and also presided over cases involving the society.
Justice Manjunath is almost certain to take over as chief justice of Punjab and Haryana high court as the collegium rejected the government’s objection triggered by a letter written by a Supreme Court judge on his alleged misconduct.
While both sides have kept the contents of that letter a secret, documents accessed by HT show that on February 8, 2004, Justice Manjunath got the plot illegally, and out of turn, in the name of his daughter K M Chaitra, who was 20 years old at the time.
Chaitra was exempted from filing an affidavit, declaring that she did not own any other residential property in the city though applicants for housing society plots are required to file such affidavits to keep property speculators out of the heavily subsidised housing societies.
Justice Manjunath, however, refused to respond to a questionnaire sent by HT on the land deal, and when this correspondent met him in his high court chamber on July 23 evening, the only on-record response was that he intended to return the plot.
The illegality of the land deal is clear from the fact that Chaitra was not even a member of the Vyalikaval House Building Cooperative Society (HBCS) near Bangalore International Airport.
The sale deed says she got the allotment out of the developer’s share in accordance with the terms of a joint development agreement between the society and the developer. The agreement says allotments from the developer’s share were made by admitting outsiders into the society as ‘associate members’.
Grabbing residential plots through the associate membership route has always been a ploy in the Rs 3.5-lakh crore housing scam in Bangalore which, according to official estimates, involves more than 400 societies.
In 1991, the Karnataka high court scrapped all nominal or associate memberships, provided. And on April 1, 2002, the state made it clear that associate members would not be “entitled for the allotment of a (housing) site”.
But in 2004, Justice Manjunath went ahead with the purchase of the 5,460 sq ft plot for Rs 6.82 lakh at Rs 125 per sq ft. The price in the area at the time was around Rs 1,000 per sq ft. At today’s market rates, the plot costs around Rs 2.18 crore at Rs 4,000 per sq ft.
Significantly, the sale deed does not mention the mode of payment the judge used for the deal, although mentioning the instrument is mandatory under the Transfer of Property Act, 1882.
Later during 2005-2010, Justice Manjunath presided over – instead of recusing himself – at least three cases where the same housing society was a petitioner.
The first case came up for orders on June 5, 2005, 16 months after the plot was allotted. The judge quashed an order passed by the Bangalore Development Authority cancelling its plan clearance to Vyalikaval HBCS.
On January 17, 2007, the judge passed orders in another case where the Vyalikaval HBCS had sought cancellation of a revenue department order, asking for impounding and auctioning of the society’s properties.
Again on July 20, 2010, Justice Manjunath passed an order on a petition by the Vyalikaval HBCS, challenging an order of the Karnataka state consumer disputes redressal commissioner.
Also, the society had overlooked hundreds of genuine members while allotting the plot to Justice Manjunath’s daughter. They are still waiting even more than 20 years after making full payments for their plots.
S Ramchandra, 56, a member of the society, complained that he had been waiting for 23 years for his piece of land, while M Kailash Jain, 48, said, “Despite all the illegalities, the society has been able to escape the law because they’ve allotted plots to influential people.”
Read: SC collegium firm on HC chief justice posting