The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land shakes under Basu, judge feet

New Delhi, Nov. 19: A former Calcutta High Court judge was today ordered to vacate his house in a whack on the judiciary that also bruised the man who sat in the chief minister's chair for the longest period.

In a scathing judgment, the Supreme Court cancelled the allotment of a plot by Jyoti Basu to Justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee in 1987.

A division bench of Justices S.N. Variava and H.K. Sema said: 'Justice B.P. Banerjee has misused his divine judicial duty as liveries to accomplish his personal ends. He has betrayed the trust reposed in him by the people.'

Justice Banerjee had stopped distribution of plots on a petition by the Salt Lake Welfare Association on June 8, 1987. Three days later, he modified his order to allow only the chief minister to allot plots. Four months later, the first plot in Salt Lake's Sector II was allotted to the judge from the chief minister's quota.

This, the apex court said, 'is undoubtedly an unholy nexus between the passing of the judicial order and granting order of allotment'.

Basu expressed surprise at the ruling. 'But I did not know Justice Banerjee who got the Salt Lake plot under chief minister's quota in the late eighties. In fact, 25 other former judges got land under the chief minister's quota during my tenure. Was it possible for me to know each one of them'

On Basu, the apex court pointed to the petition that said the allotments were made 'unconstitutionally, illegally, arbitrarily, whimsically, capriciously with mala fide motive and in clandestine manner and/or in colourable and arrogant exercise of power'.

The judges ordered the state government to assess the cost of construction of the house when it was built and offer the price to Justice Banerjee.

But if the former high court judge thought he should get the market rate, the government could put it on public auction.

In this case, there would be 'two separate bids ' one for the house and the other for the land'. The price fetched by the house should be paid to Justice Banerjee who would have to vacate it within a week of receiving the money. If he failed to do so, the government was to evict him.

Justice Banerjee refused to comment. But sources close to him said: 'He will seek revision of the order. He had already applied for the plot at the time he gave the judgment, so his hands are clean.'

The Supreme Court found Justice Banerjee's conduct beyond 'condonable limits' and added: 'We have to perform a painful duty to instil public confidence in the judiciary.'

'Today, judiciary is the repository of public faith. It is the trustee of the people. It is the last hope of the people. ... It is high time the judiciary took utmost care to see that the temple of justice does not crack from inside,' the ruling said.

Advocate-general Balai Ray said the government would have to carry out the order. 'Though there is scope for seeking a revision of the order from the same bench, I think it will not be of much gain.'

Dismissing petitions against all other land allottees in Salt Lake, the court said this 'should not be misunderstood as approval of the policy decision of the government with regard to the allotment of land by the chief minister from his discretionary quota'.

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