Citing a “loss” of about Rs 139 crore to the exchequer and apparent “favour” shown by the authorities, the Supreme Court has quashed the allotment of a 5.75-acre plot to a law institute at a premium locality in Chandigarh.
The land was allotted to Chandigarh Law Institute Pvt Ltd, which has two sons of a Punjab and Haryana High Court judge and a senior advocate among its directors.
Justices S J Mukhopadhaya and V Gopala Gowda upheld the decision of the High Court in 2006 by Justice J S Khehar, who is now a sitting Supreme Court judge. The plot was allotted to the group in 2002 on a 99-year lease for Rs 2.55 crore and the law academy was set up on the site.
The petition in the HC by Neeraj Sharma had claimed that when the allotment was done, the judge’s sons were still studying law at a Punjab University college, while the senior advocate was an additional standing counsel for the Union Territory.
“The administration of the Union Territory of Chandigarh has conferred largesse on the institute by allotting land in its favour for inadequate consideration without following procedure. The allotment is arbitrary, illegal and the same is in violation of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution,” held the SC bench.
Rejecting the appeal by the institute against the HC order, the bench junked their argument that charitable intention and philanthropic goal were behind the establishment of the academy. It held: “The establishment of the same does not serve any public interest and we cannot allow the allottee to make money or profiteer with the aid of the public property.”
The apex court observed: “There is an apparent favour shown by the Union Territory of Chandigarh in favour of the institute, which is a profit-making company and it has not shown to this Court that the allotment of land in its favour is in accordance with law. The settlement of the land was done within a few days without following the mandatory procedure for the allotment of land.”
The court said that public property should not be allowed to be squandered or sold away at a throwaway price, “as it has been done in the instant case as pointed out by its (Union Territory’s) Audit Department itself that there is a clear loss of about Rs 139 crore to the public exchequer”.
The loss to the exchequer could have been easily avoided had the land been settled through public auction, it said.
The bench said, “The screening committee, comprising senior and responsible functionaries, allotted the institutional sites in favour of the allottee without following any objective criteria and policy. The screening committee acted in a manner which is contrary to the principles laid down by this Court. It is arbitrary, unreasonable and unjust.” The judges said the matter now required corrective steps.
The institute, in its appeal, had questioned the bona fide of the petitioner before the HC and contended there was no irregularity in the land allotment. The plea also challenged the finding that allotment was done only since the appellants were influential persons.