Maharashtra officials are examining a case of alleged misrepresentation by a judge of the Bombay High Court to secure allotment of an apartment in a proposed highrise society of sitting judges in suburban Mumbai. Official documents show that Justice Ranjit More, who has been a High Court judge since 2006, while seeking government approval for membership to the housing society in Oshiwara, declared in a sworn affidavit that he did not own any other house or plot in the city.
According to government norms, only those who do not own a home or plot in a district are eligible for allotment of a tenement under any scheme of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) in the same district.
Documents obtained by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that when Justice More’s membership to the highrise society of judges was approved in September 2015, he and his wife, Aruna, according to records maintained by the Mumbai (City) Collector’s office, were still in joint ownership of a 950-sq ft apartment in the Worli Sagar Cooperative Housing Society in central Mumbai.
The RTI documents show that the couple purchased an apartment on the fourth floor of the Purna building in the Worli society on February 2, 2005. Since the 16-storeyed Worli highrise exists on a government plot, which was leased to the society in 1983 for building homes for serving and former MPs from Maharashtra, the Collector’s office, which is the government custodian of the property, has powers to authorise membership to the society.
Incidentally, Justice More, who happens to be the present Chief Promoter of the proposed Oshiwara highrise society, is on a High Court division bench that is hearing a petition pertaining to the Adarsh housing society controversy. The bench is hearing a petition filed by former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan against the decision of Maharashtra Governor C Vidyasagar Rao, granting sanction to the CBI to prosecute him in the Adarsh case.
When his comments were sought, Justice More confirmed that he and his wife had purchased a flat in Worli in 2005. “We had executed a registered gift deed on May 15, 2015 to transfer the Worli flat in favour of our two daughters,” he said.
But RTI documents show that it was only on June 28, 2016 — nine months after approval of his membership in the Oshiwara highrise society of judges was approved — that Justice More and his wife approached the Collector’s office, seeking “approval/permission to transfer the Worli flat in favour of their daughters, Aditi and Aishwarya, by way of a gift deed”.
In their application to the Collector, the couple stated: “We intend to transfer by way of gift deed the flat (with shares and interest) to our only daughters. We therefore apply for the grant of approval and permission of the state of Maharashtra for the transfer of the flat.”
A May 25, 2007 government resolution, issued by the Maharashtra revenue department, makes prior written permission of the Collector’s office mandatory for transfer of flats in residential societies existing on leased lands.
While Justice More said that the milestone of executing a gift deed in favour of their daughters was enough to divest their “rights and interest” in the flat, the Collector’s office contended that Justice More and his wife continued to be owners till the Collector’s office permitted the flat transfer on March 23, 2017.
Additional papers submitted by the couple, along with an application for transfer of the Worli flat, show that the Worli Sagar CHS too granted an NOC (no-objection certificate) for transfer of membership in favour of Justice More’s daughters only on December 10, 2015. In other words, even in the society’s records, the couple were owners of the apartment at the time Justice More’s membership to the proposed Oshiwara highrise was approved, officials said.
While construction of the Oshiwara highrise is yet to start, the proposal is to offer 84 homes, each of 1076 sq ft, on ownership, to the judges’ society. The government has so far approved memberships of 39 judges. Incidentally, the MHADA had originally planned an affordable housing scheme for middle income sections on the same plot, which was dropped to accommodate the highrise for judges.
According to documents, Justice Anil Joshi, the then Chief Promoter of Surabhi Cooperative Housing Society (proposed) formed by the judges for the highrise, approached the government on May 6, 2015 for implementation of the housing scheme.
On August 31, 2015, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sanctioned the housing scheme on a 32,300-sq ft public plot in Oshiwara. A week later, on September 7, 2015, Justice More’s membership to the Oshiwara society was approved. On the same day, Justice More had submitted an acceptance letter for membership to MHADA, while furnishing requisite eligibility documents.
Along with his application for membership approval, Justice More also submitted an affidavit, which was a condition of allotment, declaring, “I say and submit that I have applied for the proposed CHS of sitting HC judges. I solemnly affirm that neither me, nor my wife or dependent children are in possession of a tenement or a plot on ownership or hire-purchase basis in Mumbai.”
Another document, a bond of indemnity, was also submitted by him, stating, “I say and submit that the requisite documents required for eligibility of the application such as age proof, residential proof and stay in Maharashtra, annual income, proof of no (ownership) residence or plot within Mumbai limits, ration card, caste certificate, etc. are true and correct to to the best of my knowledge and belief. In case any of the documents are found to be incorrect, false, fabricated, or forged, I’ll be solely responsible for the same, and the MHADA shall have full liberty to cancel the allotment. I further undertake to indemnity and keep indemnified MHADA and all its officers from the effect of all legal proceedings that may arise in future and against all losses, damages, costs, charges, expenses, claims and penalties or any other action, which may occur by the reason of furnishing false and fabricated documents for the allotment of tenement by the MHADA.”
Justice More’s application was routed through the High Court Registrar General’s office which had also forwarded applications of all other applicants as well.