Even as govt recommends Justice S R Bannurmath's name for the post of ombudsman, records hold him guilty for illegally procuring plots from housing societies like Justice Patil
Justice S R Bannurmath, whose name has been 'recommended' for the post of Lokayukta, is learnt to have committed similar irregularities made by ex-ombudsman Justice Shivarj V Patil. The later had to resign after media reports exposed him for allegedly availing plots illegally from different housing co-operative societies.
Justice S R Bannurmath
According to sources, the chief secretary had sent the name of the former chief justice of Kerala High Court for the governor's clearance on Wednesday. According to records (copies available with MiD DAY), Bannurmath has availed a site from the infamous Judicial Employees' House Building Co-operative Society, while being a judge. His very membership in the society is disputed.
As per Bannurmath's declaration of assets and liability, he owns a house built on a site No. 2118-A (measuring 60x100 ft) allotted to him by the society. The declaration further states that he owns two other properties -- a house and an open site in Old Hubli in Dharwad district.
Ruling membership of the judges in the Judicial Employees' House Building Society illegal, a division bench of the High Court, comprising Justice K S Bhakthavatsalam and Justice M F Saldhana, had said that the judges could by no definition be considered as the judicial employees. For, they are constitutional representatives and the Supreme Court has also upheld their High Court's judgment.
"By no stretch of imagination, the judges -- sitting or transferred or retired -- can be members of the Judicial Employees' House Building Society...," says the judgment. "Even assuming for a moment that the judges are the members, it may be an irregularity of conduct of the society," it adds. Subsequently, a Joint Legislators' Committee on land encroachments, headed by A T Ramaswamy, had indicted the society in its report saying it was fraudulent on various counts.
The society not only acquired some 190 acres of agriculture land directly from the farmers violating the Sections 79(A) and 79 (B) of Land Reforms Act, but it also did not take Bangalore Development Authority's permission for the same.
Besides, the sites have been allotted to those who not judicial employees. Some 404 civic amenity sites have been given away for the domestic and commercial purposes. Even there is an instance of the president of the society complaining against the secretary of selling off 26 plots using forged documents. Enlisting the irregularities, the report has recommended superseding the society by the government after taking back the land.
The report also recommends a thorough investigation into the irregularities conducted by the society and take legal action against those found guilty. "In our report, we have clearly said the allotment of sites to judges in the layout built by the Judicial Employees' House Building Society is illegal and Justice Bannurmath is not an exception. We have noted that he has got a site and built a house there, and I can only say it is illegal," said A T Ramaswamy.
Quoting the High Court judgment, he stressed that the judges could never be called as judicial employees. "Our concerns are about the credibility of the judiciary. The judges who are well-versed with the law have violated it," he added.
Commenting on the High Court judgment that includes his own views on the case, Justice M F Saldhana said, "It is a very complicated issue. Bhakthavathsalam and I pronounced the judgment following which it was questioned in the Supreme Court and I think the apex court upheld our judgment. But, there many issues to be debated."
Coming down heavily on Chief Minister D V Sadnanda Gowda for proposing Justice Bannurmath's name for the post, Motamma, leader of the opposition in the legislative council, said, "I don't know why the BJP government is bent upon demeaning the post of the Lokayukta. When there are so many eligible candidates, what was the necessity of hand picking Justice Bannurmath?"
As per the rulebook, the chief minister needed to take opinion of the opposition leaders and presiding officers of both the assembly and the council, and chief justice of the High Court before recommending Bannurmath's name to the governor.
Motamma and Siddaramiah, leader of the opposition in the assembly, had urged the chief minister to call a meeting to discuss the issue, but Sadanda Gowda chose to ignore the request. He, however, asked them to send a list of probable Lokayuktas in writing to him. Motamma said Bannurmath's name was not there in the list.
All in community
Justice Shivaraj V Patil who stepped down as the Lokayukta, is a Lingayat, the political dominant community that former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa represents. Upa-Lokayukta Justice S B Majjagi is also a Lingayat.
Now, the selection of Justice Bannurmath has raised hackles as he also belongs to the same community. "I don't know why the Lokayukta institution is being reduced to a body dominated by a particular community. We demand social justice to be protected in such appointments," said Motamma.
Asked for his comment on the issue, Justice Bannurmath said, "I don't know anything about my selection for the post of Lokayukta. I just read reports in the newspapers and have not received any official communication. So, you cannot expect my reaction at this stage."