Ignoring judicial corruption in Gujarat?

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 05/07/2008
It is a mystery why neither the national nor regional media followed up on detailed exposes of the chief justice and some of his fellow judges, published by a Gujarati weekly in the state.
SEVANTI NINAN reports. Pix: Justice Meena

Beginning from the month of April 2008, a Gujarat weekly called Aarpar published a series of four articles about corruption in the Gujart High Court. They were extraordinarly detailed and documented, two of them focusing entirely on Chief Justice Y Meena, who retired at the end of June. A contempt petition was filed in the High Court by an associate of the then CJ. It was first assigned to a two judge bench, one of whom was associated with the filing of the petition.  The senior judge on that bench declined to hear the case.  Justice Meena then assigned the case to his own court.The publisher of the magazine, Manoj Bhimani then filed an affadavit stating that the CJ could not  hear this petition as he was the one targetted by the magazine. So Justice Meena disposed of the petition after expressing verbal irritation.  

 

Thereafter, given the specific nature of the allegations printed, there have been no defamation cases filed, by either the former chief justice, or other judges against whom specific charges were printed,  nor has there been so far any other contempt petition. However the rest of the media in Gujarat has not picked up these sensational disclosures. One wonders why. Is it fear of contempt, for which offence,  truth in not a defence?

 

Two senior journalists in the state whom the Hoot spoke to admitted that corruption in the judiciary of the state was well known, but dismissed the weekly as being pro-BJP and close to Narendra Modi. Bhimani points out that his weekly has taken on both the chief minister as well as Hindu organizations in Gujarat.   He claims that in the seven year life of the magazine it has done 52 cover stories against Modi or his government. In any case, as far as the Hoot is concerned, being pro-BJP does not detract from the serious import of the documentation published.

 

The first article published by Aarpar in an issue dated 14th  April 08  used a letter written to the Gujarat Bar Association by the additional Advocate General of state Mihir Joshi. The Government asked Joshi to resign following which the Bar Association passed a resolution  documenting facts which supported Joshi¿s main charge, which is that the whenever an important case was listed in the court, the judges would be transferred. The chief justice would make changes in the sitting list of judges.

 

The magazine quoted from the resolution: "The duties of the judiciary are not distributed according to the rules of the high court. They are in fact always being corrected and changed.  The sitting list formed on 21-9-07 has 38 changes by six orders till 19-11-07. And again from 21-11-07 to 24-03-08, there has 57 changes by seven orders." 

 

The Bar Council of Gujarat appointed a committee of four senior lawyers to study the situation and give a report to the Chief Justice of India. Aarpar carried one article in the series quoting at length from this confidential report. I reproduce that section, its contents are quite extraordinary:

 

CONFIDENTIAL REPORT (I)

THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE Y.R. MEENA

(1)    Advocates appearing in the following matters before the Hon¿ble the Chief Justice have informed member/s of the Committee that the manner in which the following matters were conducted by the Chief Justice raised serious doubts in their minds and on inquiry they were informed that a deal had been struck by their clients with the Chief Justice resulting in interim orders in their favour.

(i)     Asharam   Bapu   v/s.   State   of  Gujarat,   Letters   Patent

Appeal No. 182 of 2007 (ii)    Cham Ice & Cold Storage v/s. Trident India Ltd, First

Appeal No. 5300 of 2007 (iii)   Rasiklal Maradia v/s. Reliance Industries, Letters Patent

Appeal No. 1947 of 2007

(2)    Advocates appearing in the following matters have informed the member/s of the Committee that serious pressure was being brought on them by their clients to proceed with the matter before the Hon¿ble the Chief Justice and an equal keenness was shown by the Chief Justice to proceed with the matters. The advocates believe that in these matters deal had been struck with the Chief Justice.

(i)     Jasmin   Minerals   v/s.   State   of   Gujarat,   First   Appeal

No.2091 of 2005 (ii)    Gaekwad Investment Corp. v/s. Dr. (Smt.) Mrunalini Devi

Puar of Dhar, O.J. Appeal No. 85 of 2006 (iii)   Pioneer Ball Bearing & Engineering Company v/s. Baroda

City Co-op. Bank, Letters Patent Appeal No. 1566 of 2007 (iv)   Gaekwad Investment Corp. v/s. Jayesh Jagdishchandra Dave, First Appeal No. 201 of 2008.

(3)     A Public Interest Litigation bearing Special Civil Application No. 15239 of 2006 was filed by one Shri Nlrav Vinodchandra Shah claiming that the entire Vasna Village bearing Survey Nos. 1 to 134 is an evacuee property and the matter in respect of the same is pending before the Competent Officer under the provisions of Evacuee Properties Separation Act, 1951 since 1957 and is not finally adjudicated upon. The land comprises large tracts wherein constructions have been made since years. The Petitioner therein claimed status quo. Orders passed in the said Special Civil Application and other Civil Applications filed therein certainly raise eyebrows. This matter was conducted by the Bench comprising the Chief Justice.

(4)    First Appeal   No.   853  of 2008,  Maruti  Corporation,  Rajkot, Appellant v/s. Jayaba R. Jadeja & Others - Respondents, arises from Suit filed by the Appellant in 1998 for specific performance of purported agreement of 1980. In the said Application for injunction was dismissed by the Trial Court and the Appeal from Order against the same was rejected by the High Court. On 23.11.2007 the Trial Court dismissed the Suit and this Appeal arises from the judgment of the Trial Court dated 23.11.2007. On   29.02.2008  when  the   First  Appeal   was  admitted  Civil Application  for interim  relief was extensively  heard  by the Court. After hearing the contesting Respondent no.3, who had appeared on Caveat, the Court granted limited interim relief to the effect that if the property was dealt with  pending the Appeal, it would be subject to the final decision in Appeal. In the circumstance, there was no question of rehearing the Civil Application for interim relief. Yet on 22.04.2008 the First Court comprising the Hon¿ble the Chief Justice granted further Interim relief   restraining   sale   of   land   by   the   Respondent   no.3. Thereafter the appellant filed a fresh Civil Application and on 07.05.2008 in spite of request being made by the Respondents to grant time to file reply, the Court passed further orders restraining construction  with  the  help  of police  force.  The sudden change in  the attitude of the Chief Justice speaks volumes of his conduct in handling matters and raises serious doubts about his integrity.

(5)    The Hon¿ble the Chief Justice, Justice Meena who is retiring on 30.06.2008 has suddenly found urgency to take up matters involving high stakes. This is evident from the following facts:

(A)    A Group of Tax Appeals belonging to the Nirma Group of Industries being Tax Appeal No. 1512 of 2006 and cognate matters comprising approximately 900 tax appeals involving addition of income of approximately Rs.43 crores were suddenly placed on the Board and were heard by the Bench comprising the Chief Justice. The Judgment is reserved.

(B)    On   02.05.2008,   yet   another   group   of  Tax   Appealsbelonging to the Nirma Group of Industries .were suddenly placed on the board for fixing date of hearing. This group of Tax  Appeals  comprises  4  Tax  Appeals   being  Tax Appeals No.  946 of 2006 and other cognate matters. These Tax  Appeals  involve  an   addition  of income  of

approximately Rs.500 crores. On 02.05.2008 despite a request being made by the Counsel for the Revenue that it would not be possible for him to handle the matters before vacation as the paper books were not ready, the matters were directed to be placed on the Board for final disposal on 06.05.2008. On 03.05.2008 the Counsel for the  Revenue  was  served  with  copies  of  Paper  Book running into approximately 565 pages. A further Paper

Book was also served on 05.05.2008. On 05.05.2008, the Counsel   for  the   Revenue  filed   a   note   requesting   for adjourning the matter in the first week of July 2008 as the

Revenue¿s paper Book was still to be filed and in view of personal   difficulty.   The   Court,   however,   rejected   the request and passed the following order:

 

"Date : 06/05/2008 ORAL ORDER

 

On 02.05.2008, Mr. Manish R. Bhatt, learned counsel for the Revenue, has requested for adjournment and the matter was adjourned to 06.05.2008, I.e., today.

Today also, Mr. Bhatt prays for time on the ground that he has received Paper Books only yesterday, therefore, he could not prepare the case and asked for adjournment beyond vacation.

If he has received the Paper Books yesterday, there can be adjournment, but there is no justification to adjourn the matter for such a long time, i.e., more than one and half month, in order to prepare the case.

Thus, it appears that Mr. Bhatt is not willing to assist this Court.

Consequently, we adjourn this matter to 12.05.2008 and direct the Commissioner of Income Tax that if Mr. Bhatt is not willing to assist this Court in this matter, assign this matter to some other panel lawyer.

List it on 12.05.2008.

Copy of this order be sent to Commissioner of Income Tax, Ahmedabad, forthwith/¿

On 6th May 2008 itself arguments of the Counsel for the assessee were heard. Again a note was filed by the Counsel for the Revenue which came up on 12.05.2008. The Division Bench comprising the Hon¿ble Chief Justice and Justice Upadhyaya adjourned the matter for hearing the arguments of the Revenue at 02:15 p.m. on 16.06.2008. It would be pertinent to highlight that Justice Meena is retiring on 30.06.2008.

(C)    A 3rd Group of Tax Appeals of Nirma Group of Industries were suddenly listed for fixing date of hearing on 02.05.2008. They are Tax Appeals No.1219 and 1220 of 2006 and involve an addition of income in the sum of Rs.143 crores. No orders were passed on 02.05.2008. On 12.05.2008 oral request was made by the Counsel for the assessee to place these appeals urgently for final disposal. The Hon¿ble the Chief Justice has directed that these appeals will be taken up for final hearing on 13.05.2008 at 02:15 p.m. despite objection by the Counsel for Revenue who pointed that there was no urgency as stay was operating in favour of the assessee.

(D)    The above conduct of the Chief Justice is required to be viewed in light of the fact that the Tax Appeals of 2000 and 2001 are still pending for disposal.

(II)   JUSTICE A.M. KAPADIA

(1)    Advocates appearing in the following matters before Hon¿ble Justice A.M. Kapadia have informed the member/s of the Committee that the manner in which the matters were conducted by Justice A.M. Kapadia raised serious doubts in their mind and on inquiry they were informed that a deai had been struck by their clients with Justice A.M. Kapadia resulting in interim orders in their favour.

(i)     Shopper¿s Stop v/s. J.P. Constructions, A.O. No. 102 of 2006 - Order is a verbatim reproduction of written submissions of successful respondents.

(ii)    Country Castle Resorts Pvt. Ltd. v/s. IMatvarlal Trikamlal Patel, Appeal from Order No. 185 of 2006

(2)    In the following matter pending before the Bench of Hon¿ble Justice A.M. Kapadia and Justice K.A. Puj, serious pressure was brought on the advocate for the appellants to proceed with the matter just before the summer vacation and despite reluctance of Justice K.A. Puj, the matter was proceeded with at the instance of Justice Kapadia. The advocate has informed the member/s of the Committee that he believes that some deal had been struck by his clients with Justice A.M. Kapdia. The following facts justify the belief of the advocate:

In First Appeai No. 3517 of 2000 with Civil Application No. 1661 of 2000 and Civil Application No. 10832 of 2005 (for deletion of some respondents) - Hanshpura Road Co-operative Society -Appellant (Orig. Plaintiff) v/s. Vitthal Mandir Trust and others -Respondents (Orlg. Defendants), at the time of filing of Appeal no stay was granted and only an order of status quo was granted, although the appellants (Plaintiffs in an unsuccessful suit for specific performance of an agreement to sell trust property despite Charity Commissioner¿s refusal to grant sanction to sell) had contended that they are in possession. Just before the summer vacation of 2007 on 27.04,2007, a Civil ¿Application for stay was pressed by the appellants contending that the appellants were always in possession and that this fact should be clarified., The Court (Order by A.M. Kapadia, J.) ordered the matter to be listed peremptorily on 03.05.2007 for hearing of application for stay and for deletion of parties. The hearing was concluded on 03.05.2007 just before the vacation. At the hearing it was evident to the advocates for the appellant and the opponents that Justice Kapadia was favouring the appellants, but Justice Puj was resisting. Subsequently, the advocates for the appellant did not press the application for deletion of some parties due to resistance of Justice Puj. By order dated 20.06.2007, the Court (K.A. Puj, J.) ordered status quo. Interestingly when the matter appeared before another Bench, there was no urgency for the appellants to proceed with the matter. The matter is still pending to the best of our knowledge.

JUSTICE D.M. PATEL

(1)     Advocates appearing in the following matters before Hon¿ble Justice D.N. Patel have informed the member/s of the Committee that the manner in which the matter was conducted by Justice D.N. Patel raised serious doubts in their mind and on inquiry they were Informed that necessary talks had already taken place with the concerned Judge.

(i)     Reliance Industries Ltd v/s.  Gujarat State Information Commission, Special Civil Application No. 16073 of 2007

(2)    Jn the following matter advocates appearing for the appe^ant was informed by the clients that one Mr. Nandlal Thakkar, Advocate, had approached the clients and was assuring that the matter would be decided in their favour by Justice D.N. Patel if necessary arrangement was made by the clients. The advocates strongly opposed any such arrangement being made. The advocates are not aware whether the clients had made any arrangement or not. However, the decision is clearly in favour of their clients.

(i)      Rashida   Khatun   v/s.   Heirs   of   Deceased   Vishnubhai Ambalal Patel, A.O. No. 86 of 2007

(3)     In a personal matter of Mr. Nandlal Thakkar, Advocate, suddenly a final hearing matter was fixed on the admission board without knowledge of the other side. Thereafter the said matter was listed on the first board and orders were passed in favour of Mr. Nandlal Thakkar, Advocate, The advocate for the opposite party has seen Mr. Nandlal Thakkar entering the chamber of Justice D.N.Patel.

(4)     In the following matters which were heard by Justice D.N. Patel, all orders are consistently being passed in favour of Mundra Ports Special Economic Zone Ltd, an Adani Group Company. As per the information received from sources connected to Adani, no orders are likely to be passed against Adani in this Court. There is also an unverified information that some premises at Balaji Avenue, Vastrapur owned by Justice D.N. Patel or a member of his family is rented out to a partnership firm called Advance Exports, where Mr. Rajesh Adani is a partner. There is also unverified information that Justice D.N. Patel¿s trip to USA in May vacation of 2007 was taken care of by the Adanls.

(i)      MICT v/s. Mundra Ports Special Economic Zone Ltd, A.O.

No. 95 of 2008 (ii) MICT v/s. Mundra Ports Special Economic Zone Ltd, A.O.

No. 35 of 2008 (iii) MICT v/s. Mundra Ports Special Economic Zone Ltd,

M.C.A. No. 798 Of 2008

(5)     One Sajai Jain, who is accused in the Bijal Joshi rape and suicide case, had filed Bail Applications twice once in 2006 (Criminal Misc. Application No.3451 of 2006 and 3452 of 2006) and the second time in 2007 (Criminal Misc. Application No.6575 of 2007 and 6576 of 2007). All these bail applications were rejected by Justice Akshay Mehta. One application seeking temporary bail (Criminal Misc. Application No.5495 of 2006 and 5498 of 2006) on the ground of sister¿s marriage was rejected by Justice Abhilasha Kumari. Being aggrieved by the order of Justice Akshay Mehta, Special Leave Petitions were preferred before the Supreme Court which also came to be rejected. The ground for seeking bail was illness of his wife. On 15.12.2007, Justice Akshay Mehta retired and regular and temporary bail applications were assigned to Justice Shailesh Brambhatt and anticipatory bail applications were assigned to Justice Anant S, Dave. In the City Civil Court by 19.12.2007, not only complete evidence of more than 50 witnesses was over, but even the prosecution¿s argument were concluded before Judge Ms. S.G. Gokani. Suddenly, Ms. Gokani was transferred as Registrar (Recruitment), High Court of Gujarat (Details in respect of this are already given herein above). On 16.01.2008, there was a modification in the sitting list and both anticipatory bail applications and bail applications were assigned to Justice D.N. Patel who is close to the Chief Justice. On 25.01.2008, fresh temporary bail application was filed by Sajal Jain on the ground of illness of his wife. The said bail application came up before Justice D.N. Patel in view of the retirement of Justice Akshay Mehta. While Justice D.N. Patei is generally very strict in granting bail applications which would be evident if his orders over a period of time in bail applications are perused, temporary bail was granted to Sajal Jain in spite of all earlier applications of Sajal Jain having been rejected by the High Court and the Supreme Court.

(6)     On 06.02.2008, the City Civil Court passed an order in Civil Suit between MICT and Mundra Special Economic Zone Ltd (Adani Group Company). Again there was a modification in the sitting list effective from 08.02.2008 and Appeal from Order which was being heard by Justice K.A. Puj was shifted on 06.02.2008 to Justice Shailesh Brambhatt and from 07.02.2008 to Justice D.N. Patel. This clearly shows the nexus between the Chief Justice and Justice D.N. Patel and the reasons why sittings are being modified. Assignment to Justice Brahmbhatt was possibly a step-in-aid for assigning the work to Justice D.N. Patel in the hope that it would appear less obvious. Thereafter the Appeals were heard and disposed off in favour of Adani Group Companies.

 

 

Surely there are dozens of stories to be followed up from this document?

 

One of the  examples  given above, concerns the Bijal Joshi rape  case in which the judgement was announced a couple of  weeks ago. Here the media did react with alacrity when the judge  who was to hear the application for bail was transferred, and the case was heard by another judge who gave temporary bail to the accused, when numerous bail petitions had been refused earlier by other judges. A media furore ensued.

 

Aarpar categorised judges of the Gujarat High Court as those whom the Chief Justice liked to assign cases to, and those whom he did not, giving photographs of both.  

 

Bhimani says that while these articles were being published Justice Meena suddenly posted for hearing an old 2003 case relating to "Aarpar," in which the final hearing had never taken place.

 

A few days before the Chief Justice retired Chief Minister Narendra Modi threw a farewell for him at a hotel in Ahmedabad

 

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