Mumbai: Recently, at a meeting of Chief Justices and Chief Ministers, attended also by many political stalwarts as well as Judges from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana did not mince his words. He came down heavily on the ‘deliberate inactions of Governments’ in remedying the fractured legal system and allowing the rot to persist.
Earlier, notably, ‘The News 21’ had carried hard-hitting articles by Pune –based advocate Amit Kumar Bhowmik (75), titled: “Urgent need to clean-up corruption in the lower Courts” on November 26, 2021 and “Grievances against the judiciary … Much ado about Nothing!” and recently on March 25, both of which were well received by the readers, not only including from the legal fraternity but also from victims of such injustices. Some extracts from Advocate Bhowmik’s petition/letter to the CJI might find an echo in his address.
“In my missive of September 21, 2021, I had also detailed some of the activities of the land mafia rampaging in the Maval Taluka in Pune District (Maharashtra), in connivance with the police, revenue officials and bent members of the judiciary. Of Course, the role of concerned lawyers cannot be overlooked! But everything is being swept under the bureaucratic carpet.
A friend of mine was murdered on January 13, 2010. Satish Shetty was much younger than I. But I admired him for taking up cudgels against powerful land-barons, under the Right to Information Act (RTI). Satish was reportedly probing into the allegedmisdoings of a huge Syndicate, running into a scam of several thousand crores of rupees. Obviously, they have political backing. On January 13, 2010, Satish had gone in the early morning to fetch the newspaper, near his house at Talegaon Dabhade, Maval Taluka. His assailants were waiting for him. Satish was stabbed multiple times. He died.
It so happened that I was appearing for an Intervener, who was also a victim of the land mafia, in PIL No: 59 of 2008 before Hon’ble Justice F.I. Rebello in the Bombay High Courton January 14, 2010. I tabled the newspapers reports of Satish Shetty’s murder. Hon’ble Justice Rebello took the News Paper report, which appeared in the Times of India, suo motu as a Writ Petition:
“While hearing the Public Interest Litigation No.59 of 2008 our attention has been invited to the Newspaper items appearing in various Newspapers circulated in Mumbai on the attack on the social activist Shri Satish Shetty which has resulted in his death. The Newspaper reports indicate that late Satish Shetty by use of the Right to Information Act has unmasked various irregularities in the matter of Government lands and other incidents. This comes immediately after another newspaper item which appeared some days back which disclosed an attack on another social activist in the City of Mumbai, who are petitioners before this Court in the petition filed by City-space in the matter of S.R.A. Schemes on land reserved for play ground and R.G. Areas.
Such incidents, in our opinion, are to dissuade public spirited citizens and other social activities from approaching this Court to highlight the irregularities and illegalities. This Court, therefore, cannot close its eyes to such an incident. Considering the newspaper item in the Times of India of today, this Court takes Suo Motu notice of the same, specially of the murder of late Shri Satish Shetty.
We, therefore, direct the State Government as also the Director General of Police (DGP) to file an affidavit in this Court as to what steps have been taken to investigate both the matters and further what steps they propose to take in the matter of threat perception to other activities who have filed petitions before this Court. Affidavit to be filed within one week from today. Office to treat the news item in the Times of India of today i.e., 14th February, 2010 as Suo Motu Petition and register the same as Suo Motu and place the same on-board next week.”
Some years ago, an upright IAS officer, who was Divisional Commissioner of Pune, had summarily suspended over 200 Tehsildars and Talathi’s who had fudged revenue records,7/12 extracts, sale deeds et al, to deprive widows and other impoverished; distraught family members and legitimate heirs of their rights to the property of the deceased. The public lauded him for his audacious action. But, the very next day the then Revenue Minister of Maharashtra transferred him to an obscure post! This scrupulously honest and daring IAS officer was transferred 22 times in his career spanning 25 years!
Since the last 12 years, Satish’s younger brother and his well wishers have run a sordidly painful and frustrating gauntlet, knocking, repeatedly, on the doors of the Courts and the Establishment, but in vain. Satish’s murder remains unsolved! This, to me, speaks poorly of not only the enforcements of the law but also of our judicial system. Are the assurances given at random and at Press briefings, insincere and little else but hot air? Can there be a final closure for Satish Shetty’s family members and his supporters ever? Or, are these ‘investigations’ to remain just shams?
I had detailed earlier with regard to Judge Archana Jatkar of the Vadgaon Courts, Taluka Maval, who had been arrested by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Pune (ACB) on March 22, 2021 for allegedly demanding a bribe of Rs.5 Lakhs for passing a favorable order. One ‘Judge Deshmukh’, also from the Vadgaon District Courts, Taluka Maval, was named in the FIR. Apparently, since all land matters are adjudicated over in the Vadgaon Courts, it is an open secret that this alleged bribe is a microscopic part of the actual amounts given and taken as kick-backs! I had sent you copies of the Court Orders, including of the Supreme Court, as well as of the FIR in my earlier Petition. You will agree, that the ACB sleuths are either slack in discharging their bounden duties; corrupt themselves or, certainly, they lack teeth and are pressingly in need of a new set of dentures! It is over a year now since Judge Archana Jatkar was arrested. But, the ACB are ‘continuing with the investigations’ giving ample opportunity for the accused to slip out, even on technical grounds.”
Advocate Amit Bhowmik has on April 11 also petitioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi:
Which read thus:
Blatant corruption in Courts; Special reference to land mafia colluding with the Revenue; officials; police department and, sadly, some bent Judicial Officers to grab lands though force and trickery of indigent farmers in Taluka Maval, Dist. out, even
Urgent remedy / action sought, in National interest, from the Union Law Minister; Union Home Minister; Maharashtra State Ministers of Revenue and Home, who appear to be disinterested by-standers; least interested in the public’s well-being and, thus, colluding with the land Mafia and other thugs.
“I am a Pune- based lawyer. Since the last two decades, in particular, I find that the public have, generally, lost their faith in the judicial system. Litigation is a thankless and very costly misadventure. The fees advocates and Counsels charge are phenomenal. At all levels palms have to be greased. On April 1, Union Law Minister, Kiren Rijiju, revealed in the Lok Sabha that over 1600 complaints against the judiciary, including corruption, had been received. To my mind, Rijiju, was playing an April Fool’s joke, because I am certain that the figure is many times higher! What, however, Rijiju failed to disclose was as to what has happened to those complaints? I suspect: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Instead, I choose to repose my faith in our activist CJI Justice N.V. Ramana, who has held numerous Press conferences, where he has criticized the current lethargic and listless judicial system. He has, time and again, mooted for Courts to be litigant- friendly. Unfortunately, these brave declarations seem to have not been translated into action. Further, both the CJI and I are racing against time. I am in the winter of my life, while CJI Justice N.V. Ramana is due to retire on August 26. While I do lend unstinted support to the CJI’s outbursts, spotlight must also be on Judicial Officers, high and low, who have, literally, been caught with their hands in the till so-to-say… but who are set scot- free, to continue with their unholy capers! In the incident of the woman Judge caught red-handed while accepting a bribe for giving a favourable order, there was mention of a ‘Judge Deshmukh’ also from the Vadgaon Courts; District Pune, Maharashtra, in the FIR. The lady nabbed was a young Junior Judge; mother of an infant. If this other ‘Judge Deshmukh’ was senior to her, can it not be inferred that it was he who was calling the shots? She might merely have been collecting the bribes on his behalf, for a small consideration or some judicial favour. This ‘Judge Deshmukh’ may be even arbitrarily dictating orders on behalf of some Junior Judges in the Vadgaon and Pune District Courts… depending on the quantum of inducements! Shockingly, neither the Dehu Road police nor the ACB sleuths have made any effort, whatsoever, to dig deeper into the matter. Perhaps, they have been bought off and muzzled? The CJI will certainly agree that in such circumstances, prompt and stern action, even if taken suo motu, is called for, without fear or favour, and which would certainly not amount to maligning the judiciary! In fact, the CJI ought to chastise the State Home Ministry, through the ACB (Pune), for their lapses, larches and, deliberately, flouting their bounden duties as law enforcers!
Although, the menace of corruption is on a national level and has spread faster than the recent epidemic, I had focused on the Land mafia rampaging in the Maval Taluka; District Pune, Maharashtra, in my petitions to the CJI dated September 21, 2021 and March 25, attaching therein documentary evidence; FIR against a Judge (Vadgaon District Courts) for alleged bribery etc.
Another Judge of the Vadgaon Courts had also been mentioned in the FIR. No action has been taken by the Anti -Corruption Bureau (ACB), Pune, who contend that ‘investigations are still underway’, even though more than a year has passed since the sitting Judge was arrested! Maval Taluka was once the rallying grounds of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It is now a hot- bed for the land mafia, who in connivance with corrupt police cadre, Revenue Department personnel, bent judicial officers and crooked lawyers have grabbed properties of indigent farmers for pittances on window-dressed.
Development Agreements, coupled with Powers of Attorneys (DAPA), hoodwinking also the State exchequer, of crores of rupees, since DAPA Agreements attract less revenue tax than do Sale Deeds and, as well as, also by deploying brute force! The Mandarins at Mantralaya, (Mumbai), the seat of power of the Government of Maharashtra, are in tacit collusion with these sinister Syndicates.
The bribes, I am told, run into leviathan sums. The hapless original land -owners are bullied and cheated out of their holdings. If the Maharashtra State Government has any credibility left, as an initial measure it ought to appoint post-haste, an SIT headed by a retired High Court Judge of repute, to critically investigate into all DAPA s from 2000 onwards and, promptly, cancel them if found fraudulent or secured through coercive means. The Revenue Department, police personnel and bureaucrats concerned feathered and tarred, publically. Return the lands to the justly aggrieved!
Our forward looking CJI Justice N.V.Ramana , on April 9, while speaking at the inaugural event of the two-day National Conference on “Mediation and Information Technology” in Ahmedabad , said that an active effort must be taken by Courts to make negotiation and mediation mandatory, as a part of case -management, “imbibing effective ADR mechanisms into the judicial process which can reduce pendency; save judicial resources and time, as also allow litigants a degree of control over the dispute resolution process and its outcome.”
He also spoke about the urgent need to have increased awareness campaigns to educate the public and how Legal Service Authorities play an integral role in disposal of cases through ADR mechanisms. Lawyers must necessarily pursue every possibility of pre-litigation settlement and parties who opt for this forum must commit and work towards the early resolution of their dispute and not use it as a mere delaying tactic.
The enlightened and futuristic CJI, although set to retire shortly, also spoke about the multiple benefits of adopting alternate methods of dispute resolution. He said that Mediation and Negotiation at the pre-litigation stage, maximize the participation of stake-holders and ADR being designed around a participatory model, will break the existing barrier. Therefore, from being an “outsider to the process”, citizens with their direct involvement will be “insiders in the process”
Talking about the traditional litigation model being criticized as being an extremely expensive process, the CJI said that Charles Dickens in his book “Bleak House” had commented on the number of legal papers generated in a dispute as “mountains of costly nonsense” .He further averred that every day, tons of paper are filed before Courts, especially in a big Corporate litigation. “They follow the old saying, if you cannot convince the Judge, confuse him”, CJI Justice N.V. Ramana quipped.
However, being a realist, I concede that although these are indeed lofty ideals, at present, there is no political will to implement them. Will the Union Law Minister, Kiren Rijiju, and others, including yourself, rise to the occasion and take swift action to improve our judicial system, which is deathly sick? As a lawyer with several decades experience of crossing swords with others of my profession, I sincerely doubt that many advocates will willingly lend any support, since continuing litigation is, literally, quite often their daily bread! You and your Government can make meetings of the opposing factions mandatory before Complaints, Petitions and Suits are filed, as is being done by Marriage Counselors in the Family Courts, without the presence of lawyers.
You and the Union Law Minister, Kiren Rijiju may note, that a Full Bench of the Supreme Court was so alarmed while adjudicating in ‘Suo Motu (Cri) W.P 2 of 2021’, that more than 38 crores cases were pending, over decades, in complaints under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act (NIA), when they were informed that these Summary matters were treated as Summons cases, that they directed the Chief Justices of the High Courts to ensure that Cases under Section 138 NIA must be disposed off of summarily within six months from their initiation.
Regrettably, this ‘diktat’ has not been filtered down to the Principal Judges of District Courts, (including, I find to my dismay, the Principal Judge of Pune District Court), who are taking no cognizance of the Apex Court’s orders, which they have simply shrugged off. The bottle–neck continues. Are they then not in contempt of the Supreme Court?
Since the last 8 years I am representing in a matter under Section 138 NIA, in which the
Accused have issued dud cheques totaling Rs.2.50 Crores in a land transaction, which is yet pending before the Pune District Court. The Trial has yet to commence! With such a lackadaisical and laidback attitude of the concerned judicial officers, the Accused continue to continue to take advantage of their wrongs and Complainants keep suffering. No one is concerned. Empty, meaningless words are offered but no action is taken.”
While the Prime Minister’s office is yet to reply, CJI Justice N.V. Ramana, seems to have caught the bull by the horns. But can he succeed? The task before him is far greater and murkier than Hercules ‘cleansing the Aegean stables!’ Perhaps, the articles published by thenews21, which were sent by Bhowmik, resulted in the eruption by the CJI; condemning the studied lethargy of politicians. But the CJI retires on August 26 and, hopefully, his legacy as ‘The Peoples’ Judge’ will be carried forward without fear or favour.