“You slip into slumber and you want court to wake you up. Do you expect retired judges to roam on Delhi streets?”
“You [government] slip into deep slumber and you want the court to wake you up. God help you and God help this country,” observed the Supreme Court, expressing its displeasure over the Union government’s policy of not providing residential accommodation to chairmen and members of tribunals.
A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and Anil R. Dave was hearing an application from Goa, which complained that the Centre had not provided residential accommodation to Justice J.M. Panchal (Chairman) and members Justices Viney Mittal and P.S. Narayana Rao of the Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal, appointed to adjudicate the water dispute between Goa and Karnataka, for nearly a year.
The tribunal was constituted in November 2010 and it started functioning from November 2011. The first sitting was held last month. But till now no residential accommodation was provided to the tribunal chairman and its members.
While senior counsel T.R. Andhyarujina appeared for Goa, senior counsel Fali Nariman represented Karnataka.
Additional Solicitor-General (ASG) Harin P. Raval told the court that as per the present policy, tribunal members were not eligible for accommodation under the general pool. The tribunal chairman and members could hire private accommodation as per their entitlement after getting the fair rent assessment by the CPWD.
The ASG said that on April 10 the Ministry of Water Resources wanted accommodation to be provided, but the Ministry of Urban Development, in a reply on April 20, stated that as per policy they were not entitled to such accommodation.
At this juncture, Justice Lodha told the ASG: “You slip into slumber and you want the court to wake you up. It is strange that the ‘right’ doesn’t know what the ‘left’ is doing. As per rules they are entitled to get residential accommodation, if they are available. You can’t deny them when vacancies are available. Do you expect the retired judges to roam on the streets of Delhi? If you don’t want tribunals to function, scrap the statutes [laws] which provide for appointment of judges for tribunal. Once you appoint proper persons, it is your [Centre’s] duty to make them functional by providing them requisite infrastructure.”
Justice Lodha said, “We don’t want to stretch our order. Why do you compel us to do something which we refrain from doing? Why don’t you act in accordance with the Rules itself? Your policy cannot override the statutory provisions and the Rules. You can’t frustrate the entire scheme of law. The Rules cannot be misrepresented to deprive the chairman and members of their legitimate entitlement.”
The Bench, in its order, traced the provisions of the Inter-State Water Disputes Act and the rules framed there under which specifically mandates providing residential accommodation to members of the tribunal on a par with sitting judges of the Supreme Court/High Court.
The Bench directed the Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, to file an affidavit informing the court of the list of vacant bungalows available in the general pool in Delhi as on October 1.
It directed listing of the matter for further hearing on October 30.