#JudgmentReserved: Supreme Court delivers a judgment almost nine months after reserving

Judgment Reserved

It took almost nine months for the Supreme Court bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C. Pant, to conclude that Orissa Olympic Association (OOA) had encroached on the state Government’s land, built commercial properties on it, entered into illegal agreements with a firm to manage those properties, and that there is something rotten in the management of its affairs in fiscal aspects.

The judgment, authored by Justice Dipak Misra, was delivered on April 3, although it was reserved after the conclusion of the arguments by the counsel, on July 13 last year.

The High Court of Orissa had decided the case on November 29, 2014 in favour of the respondent, State of Orissa. The trial court had passed a decree in favour of the appellant, OOA, way back in 1999.

The OOA was granted a lease of land in 1949 for the construction of a stadium. The State Government alleged that the OOA was in unauthorized possession of acre 0.634 decimals, for which there was no lease deed.  An encroachment case was initiated and an order of eviction was passed against the OOA.

In the Supreme Court, senior counsel, Gopal Subramaniam and Raju Ramachandran appeared for the OOA, while  Ashok Panigrahi represented the State Government. Binu Tamta was the counsel for the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). Gopal Subramaniam was assisted by Raghavendra S.Srivatsa, (AOR) while Panigrahi was assisted by Krishnayan Sen (AOR).

Initially, the Supreme Court had stayed the High Court judgment, and later modified the stay, by setting up a committee of management to manage the property, which includes a marriage hall, and 23 shops. The Court asked whether a lessee, the OOA, which is involved in public duty, can be engaged in this kind of activities on a mercurial or specious ground of raising funds to sustain the stadium without the consent of the lessor. The Court concluded that the marriage hall and the shops were situated on the Government land, thus proving encroachment.

The Court was told by the state Government that the son and son-in-law of the Secretary of the OOA were the two partners in the firm that had bagged its contract in 1998. Although it was pointed out that they had become  partners of the firm, only subsequent to the award of OOA’s contract to it, the Court considered it as a conflict of interest and a transgression of the principles of fair administration and governance.

The Court thus directed the Collector, Cuttack, to take over the possession of 23 shops and the marriage hall, and the Department of Revenue to manage the property through the Collector. The Court also declared the agreement between OOA and the firm, M/s Incon Associates, which had bagged its contract, null and void. The Court disqualified the Secretary, OOA from contesting for any post in the association in future. He was already debarred by the Supreme Court from running the affairs of the OOA.

Lastly, the Court directed the CBI to probe the realization of rent from the properties, by the OOA, keeping in view the allegations that the rent was fixed far below the market rent, in order to benefit M/s Incon Associates.

Justice Dipak Misra’s judgment, despite the inordinate delay in delivering it, will be remembered for its contribution to the interpretation of conflict of interest. Here are some quotable quotes from the judgment:

  • A person who is accountable to the public and deals with public affairs is not expected, as required under the law, to have any personal interest. He is not to act in a manner where it is perceived that he is directly or indirectly the beneficiary; or that matter, extends the benefit to a person of immediate proximity.
  • In such a situation (as unveiled in this case), it does not require Solomon’s wisdom or, for that matter, the wisdom of an adjudicator as described in “Tripitak” to understand that there is conflict of interest. The Secretary of the association, as it seems, has sent his conscience on vacation.

Highlights from other judgments

Of the eleven judgments delivered last week, Justices Dipak Misra and R.Banumathi authored two each, while justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Prafulla Chandra Pant,  Rohinton Fali Nariman, L.Nageswara Rao and Deepak Gupta authored one each.

Except the OOA v State of Orissa, others were delivered promptly, after they were reserved.

Interestingly, Justice Nariman delivered a concurring judgment with Justice Pant in a matter (Savitri Devi v State of Uttar Pradesh), which was similar to the one on which they disagreed with each other in March. The High Court had reversed the trial court’s acquittal of the accused and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment. On reappraisal of facts, both the Judges unanimously upheld the High Court’s reversal of acquittal, but reduced the sentence to six years imprisonment.  The accused, who is on bail, has to surrender to serve the remainder of the sentence.

Justice Banumathi, in Deepa E.V. v Union of India, declined the plea of a OBC candidate, who availed age relaxation, while applying for the post of a laboratory assistant under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry. On being not selected under the OBC quota because of limited vacancies, she insisted that she must be considered under the general category, which was not filled for want of qualified candidates. Even though she had secured the minimum qualifying marks under the general category, Justice Banumathi found her ineligible for the post, in view of her availing of age relaxation under the OBC category.

In Dr.Sou Jayshree Ujwal IOngole v State of Maharashtra, Justice Deepak Gupta, while dealing with a case of medical negligence, set aside the High Court judgment holding a doctor guilty, merely because she committed an error of judgment, which he ruled cannot be equated with rash and negligent act, under Section 304A of Indian Penal Code.

Justice Ghose’s judgment in The State of Maharashtra v Nisar Ramzan Sayyed may appear to be a landmark in the sense he commuted the death sentence of the convict to imprisonment till his natural life, on the ground that “somehow death sentence breaches the reformative theory of punishment”. Read the Bar & Bench story here.

On a closer reading, however, Justice Ghose’s reasoning appears contradictory. His view that “confinement till natural life of the accused respondent shall fulfil the requisite criteria of punishment” would still be violative of reformative theory.

This is because those who are critical of the Supreme Court’s innovative theory of punishment, that is, life imprisonment without remission, as an alternative to death penalty, have pointed out that a convict may be found to have been reformed after a few years of imprisonment. Therefore, confining such a prisoner for the rest of his natural life, even after his reformation is complete, would be inconsistent with the reformative theory.

Those which were reserved

The following 15 judgments were reserved during last week, April 3-7. Three of these were decided in the following week, April 10-13.

SLP [Civil]

  1. Essar Steel India Ltd & Anr v State of Gujarat & Anr, 34384/2016, Indirect Tax matter, reserved by Justices A.K.Sikri and Ashok Bhushan on April 3.
  2. Madanuri Sri Rama Chandra Murthy v Syed Jalal, 35352/2016, Religious & Charitable Endowment-Wakf Board matter, reserved by Justices R.K.Agrawal and Mohan M.Shantanagoudar, on April 5.
  3. Dalip Kaur Brar v M/s Guru Granth Sahib Sewa Mission (Regd) & Anr., 24952/2015, Rent Act-Eviction on the ground of non payment of rent matter, reserved by the Chief Justice and Justice Chandrachud, on April 5, and decided on April 11.
  4. Dental Council of India v Dr.Hedgewar Smruti Rugna Seva Mandal, 26887/2016, Admission/transfer to engineering and medical colleges, reserved by justices Dipak Misra and Mohan M.Shantanagoudar, on April 6, and decided on April 11.
  5. Union of India v M/s Simplex Infrastructures Ltd, 33363-64/2016, Arbitration matter, reserved by Justices Dipak Misra and A.M.Khanwilkar on April 3.
  6. Honda Siel Cars India Ltd. v Commissioner of Income Tax, Ghaziabad, 2140/2017, Direct Tax Matter, reserved by justices A.K.Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, on April 6.
  7. Kalyan Dey Chowdhury v Rita Dey Chowdhury Nee Nandy, 34653/2016, Family Law Matter – Alimony, reserved by Justices R.Banumathi and Mohan M. Shantanagoudar, on April 7.
  8. Poonnamma Jagadamma & Ors v Narayanan Nair & Ors, 3873/2014, ordinary civil matter, reserved by Justices Dipak Misra and A.M.Khanwilkar, on April 7.

SLP (Criminal)

  1. Indofil Industries Ltd & Ors v State of Punjab, 9031/2016, converted to Criminal Appeal 653/2017, Criminal Matter, reserved by justices Dipak Misra and A.M.Khanwilkar, on April 5.
  2. State (Through) Central Bureau of Investigation v Shri Kalyan Singh (Former CM of UP) & ORS, 2275/2011, reserved by justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton Fali Nariman, on April 6.

Appeal Criminal

  1. Sudha Renukaiah & Ors v State of A.P. 119-120/2014, Appeal under Section 2 of the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Jurisdiction) Act, reserved by justices Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, on April 5.
  2. Fazar Ali & Ors v State of Assam, 1062/2007, reserved by Justices A.K.Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, on April 6.
  3. Sonu @ Amar v State of Haryana, 1418/2013, reserved by Justices S.A.Bobde and L.Nageswara Rao, on April 6,.

Appeal Civil 

  1. Agnigundala Venkata Ranga Rao v Indukuru Ramchandra Reddy (Dead) By LRS, 5817/2012, Land Laws and Agricultural tenancies – Matter relating to Agricultural and land ceiling, reserved by Justices Abhay Manohar Sapre and Navin Sinha, on April 5, decided on April 13.
  2. N.Joshi (D) Through LRS & Ors v D.C.Harris & Anr., 6139/2009, Rent Act Matter – Arrears of Rent, reserved by Justices R.Banumathi and A.M.Khanwilkar, on April 6.