Two days after the issue of illegal government plots allotted to the judges rocked the high court, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Gujarat High Court’s order issuing notices to 27 former and sitting judges including a sitting apex court judge for allegedly getting residential plots in a posh locality of Ahmedabad.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India HL Dattu said “the Gujarat High Court was in mortal hurry. This should not have happened. Let the order be stayed. Let us see what can be done.”
The bench also sought response from Gujarat government, the cooperative society and registrar of the high court within four weeks on a petition filed by former High Court judge Dhiren Arvind Mehta challenging the high court’s August 10-11 order.
The court, however, asked the petitioner to delete the names of sitting and former high court judges who were made respondents in the PIL and were issued notices.
Among the 27 judges whose names figured in the issue are eight sitting judges of Gujarat High Court, Chief Justice of Orissa High Court, Chief Justice of Bombay High Court and one sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
A bench headed by acting Chief Justice VM Sahai, who retired on August 12, had taken suo motu cognisance and referred the matter to a larger bench after framing a set of questions related to the issue for further hearing.
In an urgent mentioning, petitioner’s counsel senior advocate Harish Salve appeared before the CJI’s bench sought apex court’s indulgence.
Salve questioning the hurry shown by the Gujarat high court in taking cognisance of the matter, saying the court had received a letter which was letter converted into a PIL and cognisance was taken without giving a day’s time to parties.
In his special leave petition, Justice Mehta said the high court has “grossly erred” in taking up suo motu cognisance of two letters written by Justice BJ Shethna, a retired judge from Gujarat and Rajasthan High Court and Justice KR Vyas, former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court on July 2 and July 6 respectively.
Narrating the sequence of event on August 10, the petitioner said the high court at 12.30 pm had called the Advocate General of state to be present in the court in the post lunch session with concerned officers and relevant papers from the office of the Collector, Ahmedabad and District Registrar Ahmedabad. Despite request from government lawyer to grant more time, the court proceeded to hear the matter without granting even adequate time to prepare for its defence.
“When suo motu cognisance was taken for an issue which occurred almost seven years ago, at least seven days time ought to be granted to enable the state authorities to file detailed affidavit…,” the petition said.
The court had also ignored the advocate general’s submission that the bench should recuse from taking up the matter as the judges were personally interested in seeking some allotments and this bench should not hear the case as the same is “ abuse of process of law and violative of the judicial propriety and fair play.”
The petitioner also pointed out that despite the fact that one of the judges in the bench had recused and the matter should have gone to another bench, acting Chief Justice Sahai went ahead with hearing the matter which is “illegal and arbitrary.”
On Tuesday, after a high drama and heated exchange with the lawyers, Justice Sahai said there were several scams involving the judges there and referred the matter to a larger bench. He raised questions like — who among the judges are not allotted plot in the Neetibaug Cooperative Housing Society in Sola area? whether the allotment was done after the formation of the cooperative housing society and how can judges be given land on individual basis when the society was formed?
It had asked whether any falsity was done in giving land at such premium places and whether any advertisement was given in the media for the sale of such land? Whether the sale deed of the society has incurred loss to the state ex-chequer or not?