The Maharashtra government has allotted a prime plot of land in suburban Mumbai for a proposed high-rise housing society of sitting judges of the Bombay High Court.
Documents accessed under the Right to Information Act show that before sanctioning the plot of land in Oshiwara, the state government eased norms for allotment of individual flats in such cases.
According to information obtained from the state housing department and the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, on August 31, 2015, sanctioned the housing scheme for sitting judges of the Bombay High Court judges on a 32,300-sq ft land parcel in Oshiwara following a formal request by the proposed judges’ housing society, now registered as Surabhi CHS Ltd (proposed).
On offer will be 84 homes, each of 1076 sq ft carpet area, on ownership basis to society’s members. Construction of the high-rise is yet to begin. The government has so far approved membership of 39 judges.
The housing scheme is sanctioned under regulation 13 (2) of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development (Estate Managements, Sale, Transfer and Exchange of Tenements), Act, 1981, a provision that was last used nine years ago.
The regulation permits MHADA to build homes for a specific category of persons with the government’s prior sanction. Earlier, in 2008, the Congress-led government used the provision for a housing scheme for bureaucrats in Kalina.
On August 12, 2015, days before the judges’ society was sanctioned, the state modified certain norms and processes meant for deciding the eligibility of individual members in housing schemes for SC and HC judges.
It stated that “issuance of public notice or advertisement for inviting applications and taking recourse of the lottery system for allotment of the individual flats would not be necessary for serving SC and HC judges, since these were constitutional posts”. It also said that for deciding the eligibility of members in the proposed society, their applications must be routed through the HC Registrar General’s office.
Earlier, on April 25, 2011, the state had made it mandatory for MHADA to issue public notices for such housing schemes. Applications received were to be scrutinised for confirming eligibility of proposed members. A key norm is that a person is disqualified if he or his immediate family already owns a flat or a plot in Mumbai. Eventual beneficiaries are to be selected through a draw of lots. In August 2015, the housing department issued a government resolution relaxing these conditions for sitting judges of SC and HC.
When contacted, Registrar General of the High Court, Mangesh Patil, said, “My office’s mandate was limited to routing applications for memberships in the prescribed format,” he said.
N L Jamadar, Maharashtra’s Principal Secretary (Law and Judiciary), whose opinion was sought on the subject of relaxing norms for membership to housing societies of judges, said a decision on whether the lottery system was necessary should be taken after all membership applications are received from the Registrar General’s office.
“The lottery system may not be necessary in case the eligible applicants are less than the number of available tenements,” Jamadar said, and added, “The (housing) department may evolve such method which is in conformity with regulations and rules out a possible grievance of members that fair and transparent process wasn’t followed.”
Chief Minister Fadnavis, when contacted, said, “Everything was done strictly in accordance with the law. The government is within its powers to sanction a housing scheme for judges. Such societies for judicial officers have been sanctioned in the past too. Since the MHADA Act contains provisions that permit taking up of schemes for specific segments, we decided that MHADA should implement it. The disposal of tenements (in such cases) does not require a draw of lots.”
The office of Bombay High Court Chief Justice Manjula Chellur declined comment.