The Bombay High Court on Monday passed an 18-page judgment in a criminal public interest litigation filed by former journalist Ketan Tirodkar in 2017.
Tirodkar had challenged the allotment of a plot of land in Andheri, Mumbai, given to the Surbhi Co-operative Housing Society formed by 39 judges of the high court. He sought quashing of the allotment also directions to the high court to file an affidavit annexing the permission granted by the Chief Justice to the 39 judges to apply for a plot of land with the MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority).
A division bench of Justice BR Gavai and Justice BH Dangre passed directions to the state to formulate a policy for allotment of houses to judges of the high court and the Supreme Court as per seniority. Also, registry of the high court was directed to seek option from the judges of the high court as per their seniority for willingness for allotment of tenements in the building to be constructed by the MHADA for judges of the high court and the Supreme Court.
Tirodkar had first alleged that the MHADA had initially planned to construct flats and tenements for middle-income group, but abandoned the idea and altered it to accommodate judges. Advocate-General AA Kumbhakoni denied this allegation.
Thereafter, Tirodkar objected to the preferential treatment being given to judges who were not domiciled in Maharashtra and also pointed to cases of multiple allotments in different districts and municipalities in and around Mumbai.
AG Kumbhakoni informed the bench that the state government, while taking into consideration the number of persons applying from the category of judges of high court or judges of the Supreme Court found the number to be very less, it found that requirement of issuance of advertisement or holding of lottery system was not necessary so far as that category is concerned and, therefore, the said requirement was waived through government resolution dated August 12, 2015.
He also submitted that the state was willing to formulate a policy to ensure that one person would be entitled to allotment of only one house/tenement in the entire state.
Out of the 63 tenements to be built, only 39 judges have opted for the schemes and 24 flats are still available, Kumbhakoni said.
After passing necessary directions to the registry and directing the state to come up with a policy in 6 months, the court finally recorded that all of the petitioner’s grievances have been satisfied and observed-
“The Judges hold an important Constitutional Office and as such, they are expected to be the persons of highest moral standards. It is always criticized that unlike Executive and the Legislature, Judiciary is not answerable to anyone. The answer given is that, the Judges are accountable to their own conscience. We are sure that no person holding high Constitutional Office of a Judge of the High Court would even think of indulging in using his Office for unjust enrichment. It is therefore just and appropriate that one person should be entitled to hold only one tenement/house allotted from the Government, subject to exception as stated by the learned Advocate General.”