The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Missing file scam in Patna court

Patna, Oct. 28: Nine years ago, the Bihar government had filed an appeal in Patna High Court against a rich landlord in a dispute over transfer of land in excess of the ceiling in West Champaran district.

This July, district magistrate Ravi Parmer found that the case had not been listed as the “file was missing from the high court records section”.

All this while, the landlord has been reaping the benefits of the disputed land, supposed to be distributed to the landless. It will take some more years for the case to be heard and disposed of, unless it “gets lost” again.

A shocked Parmer has approached the court again. But few are surprised. Missing files are a common phenomenon in Patna High Court. Even more common are cases of illegal alteration of court papers.

The high court administration’s recent discovery of “perjured” petitions and court papers, engineered allegedly by a section of advocates, court employees and middlemen, has added to the growing list of scandals in Bihar.

Registrar Sachinandan Mukherjee’s investigations have shown 70 cases of irregularities so far. Court sources say the figure might go up.

“This is a shame. I was an advocate in the court for long before becoming a minister. I suggest the court administration take the strongest action against the persons found guilty,” Union minister of state for law and justice Ravishankar Prasad said.

Initial inquiries showed that in one case, a conduit of the advocates, court staff and middlemen in conjunction with the petitioners had referred a tax dispute to a division bench although another division bench had dismissed the appeal. The petitioners erased the name of one judge from the ordersheet signed by a division bench of two judges to make it appear that a single judge gave the verdict.

In most of the 70 cases blacklisted by Mukherjee, the “conduit altered court documents to mislead the bench for quick but fraudulent legal benefits for the litigants”.

The court sources said illegal alteration of documents was not new in Patna High Court. In 1994-95, the CBI had traced a gang that “manufactured” bail orders complete with court stamps and judges’ signatures.

Judges and senior advocates were shocked at the audacity of the operators, but were in for more shock when two advocates, sons of high court judges, were found involved in the business of subverting justice.

“This was the quickest justice available for a price,” said a senior advocate, adding that a convict was released on bail at that time with the help of forged orders. The case is now in the trial stage.

“We are aware of the irregularities in the high court. It is the Bar Council of Bihar which should take strong action against the advocates involved,” said Basudev Prasad, one of the most revered lawyers. Others alleged political nexus.

Even as Mukherjee scans all the high court records and district judges have their courts scrutinised under his instruction, the different lobbies among advocates are trying to link the detection to a likely war of ego between the court administration and the advocates who recently struck work.

“There have been irregularities (earlier). Why (crack down) now'” asked a section of lawyers busy campaigning for their candidates in the state bar council polls. Some suggest that the latest scam is the result of a power struggle within the Bar Council of India.

Whatever the trigger, the scam conveys a grim message: justice is being subverted in Bihar and the state’s highest court is being exploited by a nexus of vested interests. “No other high court in the nation is facing the circumstances unfolding in Patna High Court,” a division bench of Justice Ravi Dhawan and Justice R.N. Prasad recently observed in an order, highlighting Bihar’s plight.

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