Judges buying land for cheap from govt under scanner

Gujarat High Court (HC) Acting Chief Justice V M Sahai on Tuesday decided to refer to a larger bench the matter of the Gujarat government reportedly allotting land at concessional rates to HC judges.

It also decided to frame a set of questions for the new bench.

Several HC judges were each reportedly given 400 sq mt land at concessional rates in 2007. The plots were located near the Gujarat HC building in the Gota area on the affluent SG Highway in Ahmedabad.

Among the reported beneficiaries are a sitting and a retired Supreme Court judge, eight sitting Gujarat HC judges, 15 retired HC judges and the chief justices of the Bombay HC and the Orissa HC.

On Monday, Justice Sahai initiated suo motu proceedings against the 27 judges by issuing them notices for buying land for roughly Rs 25 lakh from the state government. The plots cost about Rs 1.5-2 crore each today. He also issued a notice to the state government and the Ahmedabad collector.

The proposed bench, to be constituted by the HC, is expected to hear the matter on whether the state government has a policy to grant housing to judges, whether any judge owns residential property in an 8-km radius of the present HC, and whether the local authority gave the land to the judges for free or if any money was involved, among other questions.

Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, on his part, urged the HC to probe the matter in its entirety instead of just looking into the questions. On Tuesday, like Monday, he countered the charges of irregularity, saying the allotment was done in accordance with government-framed rules.

The case brings to the fore the issue of conflict of interest, with several cases where government is a party being heard daily in the HC. There is also the issue of propriety of judges in the higher judiciary, who are potential beneficiaries.

The division bench of Justices Sahai and R P Dholaria had treated a letter written by two former judges in this regard as public interest litigation.

In their letter, former Gujarat and Rajasthan High Court judge Justice B J Shethna and former Gujarat and Bombay High Court Chief Justice K R Vyas are believed to have said the government had committed several illegalities while allotting expensive plots to judges at the Neetibaug Cooperative Housing Society.

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