Friday, August 4, 2017

Land and Property as Distillate of Human Conscience

How much land does a man need? Leo Tolstoy’s story of human avarice written more than 131 years ago in 1886 comes back to one’s mind now. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed! Yes, that was exactly the area that Pahom’s servant dug to make a grave for him, as he lay on the hillock dead, blood spouting from his mouth out of sheer exhaustion in trying to acquire as much land as he could before the sun dipped into the horizon. It was our first year in Ravenshaw College in Cuttack we read this, a story told so unobtrusively in sibilant tone, yet said with such unmistakable telling effect that it remains a tinnitus in my head, conveying a universal message: love and greed for land — add buildings/apartments for good measure — have been man’s nemesis, and, I’m afraid, shall always remain that way. That’s human greed — emblematic of man’s epicurean self.
Travel no further back than 2010–11 and recall the Adarsh land scam details. How a housing society meant for Kargil war widows in Colaba, Mumbai was shamelessly appropriated by influential people — politicians, senior armed forces officials and bureaucrats! The Comptroller and Auditor General of India(CAG) in its Report had remarked that “The episode of Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society reveals how a group of select officials, placed in key posts, could subvert rules and regulations in order to grab prime government land — a public property — for personal benefit.” Ashok Chavan, the then Maharashtra chief minister lost his job, some bureaucrats were suspended and jailed for a few months, few service officers were charge-sheeted and proceeded against, but despite all the hullaballoo, the memory and lesson learnt from the scam (as with other scams) has fast faded away from public memory.
Around the same time, recall the events that were brewing around Justice Dinakaran’s case when he almost made it to the Supreme Court. The Chennai-based Forum for Judicial Accountability, in September 2009 had raised its voice against the then Chief Justice Dinakaran of Madras High Court. The issue again was illegal acquisition of land and it remained on the boil for good two years before he finally resigned from the post of chief justice of Sikkim high court on 29 July 2011 after the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha had admitted a motion for his removal. Interestingly, it was only after this that the Supreme Court collegium dropped Justice Dinakaran’s name for elevation.
Little before it was the turn of another judge of Calcutta High Court, Justice Soumitra Sen who quit when he found an impeachment motion staring him in his face. As a court-appointed receiver, he had kept the amount of about Rs 33 lakh in his personal account. With the benefit of hindsight, one can say that Justice Soumitra Sen’s act, unacceptable and unbecoming, was far less serious than what has now come to light concerning Justice Dipak Misra.
Let me briefly recapitulate Justice Misra’s case that dates back to 1979 when he was an advocate in the Orissa High Court. In order to provide succour to the poor and landless, the government of Orissa had come out with a policy of leasing land to them based on certain criteria. In the government notification, a landless person was defined as “…one who and his family members do not hold land more than two acres and who have no profitable means of livelihood other than agriculture…” To make himself eligible as a recipient for the leased land meant for the landless, Justice Dipak Misra in his affidavit tried subverting the rule to subserve his personal interest by testifying that: “…the extent of landed property held by me including all the members of my family is nil.” This Nil landed property was later found to be false; he had in another affidavit to the government of Orissa had sworn that his family owned 10 acres of land. Consequently, the lease granted for a “fodder farm” as reported, was cancelled on February 11, 1985, in proceedings under the Orissa Government Land Settlement Act, 1962 with the additional district magistrate of Cuttack indicting unequivocally that “…I am satisfied that the lessee has obtained lease by misrepresentation and fraud.”
This indeed is serious indictment — because the intent to mislead and circumvent the rule is unmistakable, as can be seen from the CBI’s closure Report of May 30, 2013. Shanti Bhushan, senior advocate and former union law minister, is forthright in his observations: “A false statement made in declaration, which is by law receivable as evidence, and using as true such declaration knowing it to be false, are serious offences under Section 199 and Section 200 of the IPC, punishable with up to seven years of imprisonment and a fine. The filing of that affidavit by Justice Misra is thus a very serious matter.” Despite all this, how he was considered for a judgeship where police verification and antecedent checks are crucial and mandatory speaks volumes of the system we have in place.
Against this background, it would be clear that it was imperative for the CJI to set up an in-house inquiry committee to investigate the case for, paradoxical as it may sound, this is where we enter into an exclusive and sequestered territory. The Supreme Court has directed in its Constitution bench judgment in the Veeraswamy case of 1991 that no FIR would be registered against any judge without the permission of the CJI. In a case as egregious as this, with the CJI not instituting an in-house inquiry and instead recommending him as his successor, coupled with no limitations placed by the Constitution (or any SC judgments) or the Memorandum of Procedures, it’ll naturally be incumbent upon the elected sovereign government to set things right to ensure judicial rectitude, as enjoined upon in the Constitution and its values, which they have been sworn to uphold.
Perhaps it is all the more imperative — and let me say this in parenthesis — because should one look at the issue of false affidavit through a psychologist’s eyes, one will discern that the tendency to mislead with the intent to circumvent the rule/procedures to make personal gains is doubtless a part of a person’s DNA and make-up that shall refuse to go away and always stay with him, surfacing as and when opportunities present themselves. Land and property are indeed the distillate of human conscience. Human beings by nature are obsessive, possessive individualists. The lack of transparency and professionalism in India, coupled with the age-old Indian tradition of promoting sub-national/clan/family loyalty — the sub-culture of biradiri in the larger template of the culture of materialism that’s gotten more pronounced with economic liberalization in today’s globalized world to get-rich-fast — have sadly distorted our priorities. Ethics is at the heart of the issue, more for a judge, still more for a Supreme Court judge — and doubtless many times over for the CJI. Ethics and morality are attributes that can neither be compromised nor wished away in public service, as the Supreme Court itself had rightly observed in the Second Judges case (1993) that “…persons of unimpeachable integrity alone are appointed to these high offices and no doubtful persons gain entry.”
Must then the President, and the council of ministers headed by the Prime Minister to aid and advise him, not scrupulously follow the extant SC order in the Second Judges case (1993) and ensure that the Supreme Court lives up to its own judgment so that its image of being unimpeachably fair and transparent shines through as a exemplar for other democratic institutions in the country to emulate?
(Reproduced from

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