'Brazen Misuse Of Power To Perpetuate Personal Gains': Allahabad HC Castigates Ex-UP Minister Azam Khan In 'Jauhar University' Case

Sparsh Upadhyay

19 March 2024 9:32 AM GMT

  • Brazen Misuse Of Power To Perpetuate Personal Gains: Allahabad HC Castigates Ex-UP Minister Azam Khan In Jauhar University Case

    While DISMISSING the challenge made to the cancellation of the lease of Maulana Mohamad Ali Jauhar University's land in the state's Rampur District, the Allahabad High Court strongly criticized the acts of the then Cabinet Minister and Senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan for misusing his position to perpetuate personal gains.The judgment, passed by a division bench comprising Justice...

    While DISMISSING the challenge made to the cancellation of the lease of Maulana Mohamad Ali Jauhar University's land in the state's Rampur District, the Allahabad High Court strongly criticized the acts of the then Cabinet Minister and Senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan for misusing his position to perpetuate personal gains.

    The judgment, passed by a division bench comprising Justice Manoj Kumar Gupta and Justice Kshitij Shailendra, emphasises that the grant of lease of Government land to Jauhar Trust was an outcome of "abuse and misuse of power" by the then Cabinet Minister as he acted "without scruples" and under influence of the public office he held, succeeded in "circumventing the law".

    "This Court is fully satisfied that the creation/ grant of lease of the Research Institute in favour the petitioner trust was dehors the provisions of law and a result of gross abuse of the public office held by the Hon'ble Minister. There was a direct conflict of interest and the entire proceedings, culminating in the grant of lease in favour of the petitioner trust were void ab initio," the Court observed in its operative part of the 70-page judgment passed on Monday.

    The case in brief

    In the year 2004, the state government decided to open a government training and research institute in Rampur in the name of Maulana Mohd. Ali Jauhar Training and Research Institute to provide a fillip to Urdu, Arabi and Farsi languages.

    For the said purposes, a total of 13140 square meters of land was acquired by the state government and thereafter, in 2013-14, a decision - which was subsequently challenged- was taken to lease out the Research Institute in favour of the former Cabinet Minister's trust (Mohammad Ali Jauhar Trust/petitioner trust) under the provisions of the Government Grants Act, 1895. 

    In furtherance of the said decision, a lease deed was executed between the Governor of the State and the petitioner trust in February 2015. The said lease was granted for 33 years on receipt of a premium of Rs.1,000/- and at an annual rent of Rs.100/- with an option for renewal of the lease for two further terms of 33 years each, the maximum period of the lease being 99 years. By way of the said transaction, the settlement of leasehold rights in the land and building of the Research Institute was shifted in favour of the petitioner-trust.

    In this entire process, many objections from state ministries were raised, including an objection that a government institution cannot be affiliated with a private institution/trust, however, it was ultimately decided by the State Government that the Research Institute would be affiliated with Mohammad Ali Jauhar Trust. Thereafter, Rampur Public School was also established on the said land.

    In 2017, with the coming of a new government in the state, certain complaints were made before it regarding the functioning of the petitioner trust and the Government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for the said purposes.

    The SIT looked into the entire turn of events starting from 2005 to 2017 and it came up with a case against Khan that he misused and abused his position to usurp highly valuable State land and the building of the Research Institute built from the State exchequer. It was alleged that State land and buildings were misappropriated in the garb of advancing the objectives of the Training and Research Institute, which caused huge financial losses to the State Exchequer

    It was the case of the SIT that the trust, with which the research institute was affiliated, was headed by Khan himself and the petitioner trust (Jauhar), instead of advancing the objects of the Research Institute, established a CBSE-recognised school in the building of the research institute.

    It was also claimed that the Managing Committee of the said school was comprised mainly of the family members of the Cabinet Minister and that the Rampur Public School was established over the land and building without approval from the Cabinet or competent authority.

    Further stand of the SIT was that Khan, being the Cabinet Minister himself determined and fixed the premium of the entire land and building at Rs.1000/- and annual lease rent of Rs.100/- by misusing and abusing his position, causing financial loss to the State exchequer to the extent of around Rs.20.44 crores

    Against this backdrop of the finding of the SIT, the State Government, in January 2023, decided to terminate the lease and also the Office Memorandumwhereby the previous Government had let out the Research Institute in favour of the petitioner trust. Challenging this decision, Khan's trust moved the HC.

    Arguments put forth

    Before the HC, It was the primary contention of the Tust that neither any show cause notice was issued to the petitioner nor any opportunity of hearing was ever afforded by the respondents to the petitioner before passing the impugned order terminating the grant of lease, office memorandum, lease deed and correction lease deed.

    On the other hand, it was argued on behalf of the state government that Khan was the Cabinet Minister when the entire exercise for grant of lease took place and that he used his power and influence in securing a long-term lease of 99 years of valuable State land & building, built from State fund, for his own Trust.

    It was alleged that he played the role of granter and was also the beneficiary and hence, this was a direct conflict of interest and it rendered the entire exercise (of granting lease) void ab initio.

    High Court's observations

    Perusing the records of the case as well as the lease agreement, the Court noted that though there was no clear approval, either from the Law Department or from the Finance Department or Revenue Department concerning the fixation of lease rent or other financial aspects, Khan, being the Minister himself was the proposer as well as an approver of the decision relating to the duration of lease as well as lease rent amount.

    "...the first page of the lease deed dated 04.02.2015 itself, it is clear that the same was executed on the request of the lessee, i.e. the petitioner-Trust. Apparently, Mohd. Azam Khan, being lifetime Chairman of the said Trust, was proposer behind the creation of lease and he himself was the beneficiary of the lease granted...He succeeded in getting the period of lease as well as lease rent fixed in such a manner that property worth crores came to be settled in favour of his private trust for nothing" the Court noted.

    Further, the Court noted that in March 2015, a Government Order was issued amending Clause 16 of the aims and objectives of the Research Institute, substituting higher education with primary and secondary education to enable the opening of one more branch of a CBSE-recognised institution, viz Rampur Public School, in the building of Research Institute. 

    "In the case at hand, the Cabinet Minister was well aware that his family-run Trust and School would be the main beneficiaries of the grant. Instead of disassociating himself with the decision-making process, he not only played an active role in ensuring that the Research Institute is given on lease to his own Trust but also on terms decided by him," the Court noted/
    "...He regretfully used his influence at every stage, camouflaging it behind public interest. It was a brazen misuse of power to perpetuate personal gains. The Minister knew that Rampur Public School was an affiliate of C.B.S.E. where the syllabus designed by the said Board would be taught and not Urdu or Arabic language, in clear departure of the main objective with which the Research Institute was established. The abolition of all posts of the Research Institute at the time of creation of lease on the pretext that same were not required, only proves that the intention was never to advance public interest, i.e. research and higher learning in Urdu and Arabic language but to promote his family run school. He succeeded in opening one more branch of CBSE recognized school apart from those already in existence. All the branches of Rampur Public School were controlled by the managing committee constituted by his family and he thereby came in control of the valuable property of the Government Research Institute," the Court further observed.

    Further, emphasising that the policy aspects, procedural aspects and financial aspects were deliberately given a "complete go-by" and that the "very grant of the lease was an outcome of abuse and misuse of power by the Cabinet Minister", the Court noted that the entire exercise, since inception to end, failed to pass the muster of Article 14 of the Constitution.

    Lastly, the Court also concluded that the argument of the petitioner regarding the infraction of the principles of natural justice had no real substance. Consequently, the Court was not inclined to interfere with any of the orders/notices/ Office Memorandum/ decision impugned in the present writ petition or grant any other relief claimed by the petitioner. With this, the petition was dismissed.

    Case title - Executive Committee Maulana Mohamad Ali Jauhar Trust vs. State Of U.P. And 6 Others 2024 LiveLaw (AB) 177

    Case Citation: 2024 LiveLaw (AB) 177

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