The case pertains to plots of land allocated 37 years ago to about 300 people, including Justice Dipak Misra, who was an advocate at the time and is now in the Supreme Court. Some beneficiaries allegedly made false declarations that they didn’t own any land so that they could get the plots. People close to Misra dismissed the allegations as baseless.
Justice Das headed a bench that ordered the CBI in January 2012 to probe the land allotment. Das told ET he missed out becoming chief justice because he had ordered the probe by the CBI, which submitted its report in August 2013.
"The link and presumption is not unfounded," Justice Das said by phone from Cuttack. "In January, I ordered the CBI probe and three months later, in March 2012, my name came up for appointment as Chief Justice of Punjab & Haryana High Court. I had heard that my name was opposed by Justice Dipak Misra, but I don't have any record with me. Well, but for this, I would have retired as chief justice."
Justice Misra's office did not respond to an emailed questionnaire from ET seeking comment on the matter. However, people close to Justice Misra said he has never acquired land in a fraudulent manner or by misrepresenting facts.
"The land was taken in 1979, when he was a young advocate, and he surrendered it in 1985, for which records can be verified. These are all baseless allegations," the people said. Justice Misra was one of the judges who ruled on Wednesday that all Indians have to stand and listen to the National Anthem before watching a movie in a theatre. He is in line to become the Chief Justice of India in 2017.
ET is in possession of the complaint and related documents, which show that two acres of land in Cuttack were allotted to Misra on November 30, 1979. The allocation was cancelled by an additional district magistrate in 1985, who ordered the land records to be corrected.
The ADM of Cuttack passed the order in a suo moto revision case, saying the land was obtained through fraud and misrepresentation, Das said. The records were corrected 27 years later, after the high court intervened and asked the collector to submit a report.
"The CBI report also said the land record was not corrected till 2012. Technically speaking, Justice Dipak Misra, among others, from 1979 to 2012, were in possession of this land," Justice Das said. "There were about 300 allottees. This was a case of encroachment/illegal allotment to individuals, who misrepresented facts and claimed to be landless."
Justice Das contended that Justice Misra had no locus standi to oppose his candidature as chief justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court.
"Dipak Misra had already moved to the Madhya Pradesh High Court when I became a judge, so he had no idea about my performance as a judge. But he on his own wrote to the collegium opposing my appointment," Das said. "Plus, there was a conflict of interest – his name figured in the land allotment case being heard by me and he didn't declare his interest to the SC collegium."
People close to Misra debunked this allegation as a disgruntled grouse. "These are someone's grievances because he could not be elevated. Why bring in collegium matters here? And something which happened long back? You must find out which all people got plots out of discretionary quotas," they said.
ET spoke to legal luminaries, including judges, who confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that Justice Misra had "serious reservations" about appointing Justice Das as chief justice of the Punjab & Haryana High Court.
Further inquiries revealed that facts about the land allotment case may not have been brought to the notice of the SC collegium when Justice Misra was considered for appointment to the nation's top court. Misra was appointed as a judge of the apex court in October 2011and is due to retire in 2018.
"It may not have been brought to the notice of the collegium, but I don’t have any records," Justice Das said.
"This is something very serious and was not brought to the notice of the collegium. There was no IB report also," said a legal luminary who asked not to be identified. "The SC collegium should take cognisance of this as per in-house mechanism, since the complaint is also addressed to Chief Justice of India TS Thakur."
"Justice Misra is known for his credibility and integrity," the people close to him said. "Do you think it is possible that the facts weren't brought to the notice of the collegium headed by CJI SH Kapadia, who was a very strict chief justice, known for his integrity? Do you think he wouldn't know about it?"
Alleging that the decision not to elevate the Uttarakhand chief justice “has been influenced by pressure from the government”, CJAR has demanded that the full text of Justice J Chelameswar’s dissenting note to the collegium objecting to the non-elevation of Justice Joseph be “put in public domain.”
This is the first time in the annals of the Supreme Court collegium that a member has written a dissent note. Normally such views are conveyed orally.
Pointing out that “transparency in the working of public functionaries, both the judiciary and the government, is critical in a democracy”, CJAR says, “It is ironic that there has been complete opacity from both these institutions” about “disclosing a draft of the memorandum of procedure for appointments to the High Court and Supreme Court.”
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