Karnataka HC judge faces conflict of interest in housing case

A judge of the High Court of Karnataka is set to hear a case that is likely to impact the fate of a housing society plot owned by his daughter.

An investigation by The Hindu shows that K.M. Chaitra, daughter of Justice K.L. Manjunath, was allotted the plot when she was living with her father and showed his residence as her address. The allotment appears to put Justice Manjunath in a position of conflict of interest as he heads a Division Bench that is hearing a public interest litigation (No. 21860/2011) petition related to allotment of housing society plots.

The petitioners in this PIL have questioned a Government Order (GO) passed on November 20, 2010 by the State BJP government. The GO legalises the allotment of housing society plots to non-members by admitting them into the cooperative society as associate members at the time of sale.

Documents accessed by this newspaper show that Ms. Chaitra was not a member of the Vyalikaval House Building Cooperative Society and was made an Associate Member at the time of the allotment of a 5,460 sq. ft plot at Nagawara, an upmarket area on the road to Bengaluru International Airport.

The sale deed dated February 8, 2004 shows that the plot was sold to her for Rs. 6.82 lakh. As on date, the plot is estimated at Rs. 1.63 crore @ Rs. 3,000 per sq. ft. Meanwhile, hundreds of members who joined the housing society in 1984 continue to wait for an allotment.

Significantly, the allotment to Ms. Chaitra was made at a time when she stayed with her father. This is borne out by the fact that the permanent address, mentioned in the sale deed, is that of Justice Manjunath. Further, as per the list of assets declared by the judge, he is the owner of that residence.

Consequently, the allotment appears to be in violation of Section 10 (a) of the government-framed model bye-laws for house building cooperative societies, which mandates that an allottee or her family should not have any other residential property in Bangalore; the same section also bars multiple allotments.

The very rationale for cooperative housing societies rests on the premise that they enable persons who are unable to pay market prices to afford a dwelling unit at subsidised cost. Indeed, Section 10 (a) was in fact inserted in the bye-laws to ensure that only genuine and needy persons are allotted sites. It is for this reason that aspirants were mandatorily required to file affidavits declaring that they do not own any other residential property in the city. This is done in order to weed out applicants who do not demonstrate a dire need for a dwelling unit, a lawyer familiar with the rules said.

Justice Manjunath declined to comment when The Hindu contacted him on Wednesday evening for a response.

Asked for his legal opinion, Team Anna member and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said, “The [housing cooperative society] plot allotment scam is a huge one in Karnataka. Justice Manjunath should not hear the case because of conflict of interest. An application can be filed asking him to recuse himself.”

The Vyalikaval House Building Cooperative Society Ltd. has been at the centre of controversy over the past one year.

This is the same society that allotted a 4,012 sq. ft plot to the wife of retired Supreme Court judge and former Lokayukta Shivaraj Patil. When the allegedly irregular allotment was exposed by two newspapers, including The Hindu in September 2011, Mr. Patil resigned as the Lokayukta and returned the controversial plot. Mr. Patil’s post has since been vacant. Two other judges, nominated to succeed Mr. Patil, withdrew from the race after details emerged of their own involvement with housing society allotments.

Former High Court judge and Upalokayukta R. Gururajan too was forced to step down after details of society plots that had been allotted to him in apparent violation of the law were published in the media.

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 1:37:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/karnataka-hc-judge-faces-conflict-of-interest-in-housing-case/article3606838.ece

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