Supreme Court rejects plea on land for lawyers’ chambers

ByAbraham Thomas
Mar 24, 2023 01:31 AM IST

SCBA demanded conversion of an entire plot measuring 1.33 acres allotted by the Union government to the Supreme Court for archives so that it could be used for the chambers.

The Supreme Court on Thursday said that the demand by lawyers for construction of additional chamber block will be taken up on the court’s administrative side bearing in mind present and future needs of the institution and interest of all stakeholders, including lawyers, litigants and staff of Supreme Court.

The Centre was represented in court by Attorney General R Venkatramani. (Agencies)
The Centre was represented in court by Attorney General R Venkatramani. (Agencies)

Dismissing a petition filed in this regard by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), a bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said, “These are matters which cannot be resolved by the application of judicial standards and have to be taken up on the administrative side of the Supreme Court. Administrative functioning and decision-making, which the current issue requires, cannot be moved to the judicial side.”

SCBA demanded conversion of an entire plot measuring 1.33 acres allotted by the Union government to the Supreme Court for archives so that it could be used for the chambers. The demand was made against the background of an increasing number of lawyers practising in the top court and the limited availability of chambers in and around it.

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Turning down the demand, the bench, also comprising justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and PS Narasimha said, “SCBA cannot assert a right to the entirety of the land measuring 1.33 acres, which has been allotted by the Union government for housing the Supreme Court Archives, for converting it into a chamber block for lawyers.”

The petition by SCBA also sought the conversion of the entire area around Supreme Court comprising existing buildings on Bhagwan Das Road, as a Supreme Court Block and the allotment of a government bungalow presently occupied by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club to the SCBA.

“Such directions cannot be issued on the judicial side,” said the bench, adding that the discharge of functions by the Supreme Court include judicial and administrative functions that involve diverse stakeholders including lawyers, litigants and the staff engaged in activities of the Supreme Court. “A holistic view has to be taken on the allocation of available resources by balancing the needs of stakeholders both for the present and the future,” it added.

Such a decision would involve consultation with the members of the Bar, the bench said. It also allowed the other lawyers’ associations besides SCBA, such as Bar Council of India and SC Advocates-on-Record Association (SCAORA) demanding additional space within the Supreme Court to make representations to the Supreme Court on the administrative side.

The SCBA through its President and senior advocate Vikas Singh had sought a judicial solution to the problem of lack of chambers faced by Supreme Court lawyers and eyed the 1.33 acre plot for realising this need.

As per SCBA, the erstwhile Appu Ghar complex measuring 12.19 acres had already been allotted to the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Urban Development of which only a small portion was utilized for construction of 234 chambers. Even in the 1.33 acre plot, the Supreme Court on the administrative side had in August 2018 allotted 0.5 acre for construction of lawyers’ chamber.

SCBA proposed that the Supreme Court Archives that is to come up on 1.33 acres could be accommodated in the Additional Supreme Court building complex (on the Appu Ghar land) leaving the entire space open for lawyers’ chambers. This was the last piece of vacant land available near the Supreme Court, according to SCBA and for this reason, it had filed a writ petition in August last year.

The 10-page order by the court clearly indicated that it was fully cognizant of the needs of the lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court who are vital stakeholders in the administration of justice. But the litigants are stakeholders as well and while creating or upgrading the existing amenities, the interest and welfare of litigants has to be duly recognized and protected, it reasoned.

SCAORA and BCI were agreeable to have their demands considered on the administrative side, but SCBA indicated that as and when the issue is decided on the administrative side, their representative should be part of the decision-making process. The order was silent on this demand.

The bench held the view, “It would not be appropriate to entertain a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution seeking a direction that the entirety of the land admeasuring 1.33 acres should be allotted for the construction of a chamber block for lawyers.” It further stated that issues pertaining to change of land use are “eminently suitable” to be addressed on the administrative side.

While reserving orders on the petition last week, the Court had observed, “It sends a very wrong message that judiciary is using its powers to take over land. Today it is land, tomorrow it will be something else. It must not be felt that the Court is using its judicial powers to bulldoze its way.”

The Centre was represented in Court by Attorney General R Venkatramani who endorsed the view that the issue should be taken up on the administrative side by the Supreme Court. He further assured that in his own capacity, he would facilitate an attempt to secure the needs of the institution and of its stakeholders.

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The demand by SCBA to get the matter heard witnessed an unsavoury moment between SCBA President and CJI on March 2 when Singh raised his tone in demanding an urgent listing of the matter. The CJI shot back saying he would not be cowed down by such conduct and asked Singh to leave the Court.

Pained by the episode, senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Neeraj Kishan Kaul, who were inside Court, apologized to the CJI. The same day, a section of SCBA moved a resolution for taking action against the two senior bar members for diluting the stand of the SCBA and its President by their apology. Ahead of a General Body meeting to decide on the action against Sibal and Kaul, SCBA dropped the resolution after its action met stiff resistance from former Attorney general KK Venugopal among others. Venugopal wrote a letter to Singh on March 14 to drop the two resolutions , saying that such a move would otherwise create “two factions in the bar”.

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