Supreme Court: Politicians script escape stories as time dilutes rigour of Supreme Court orders

Mahanati fares better than new releases
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ASUS ZenFone Max Pro M1 review: Outclassing the master

Supreme Court: Politicians script escape stories as time dilutes rigour of Supreme Court orders

Twenty days ago, the Supreme Court struck down an Uttar Pradesh law entitling former chief ministers to sprawling government bungalows in posh localities of Lucknow.

Following the SC judgment, the Yogi Adityanath government served notices on Akhilesh Yadav, home minister Rajnath Singh, SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP supremo Mayawati, Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh and ailing Congress leader N D Tiwari asking them to vacate the bungalows within 15 days.

These political leaders, having the capability to organise huge rallies at a day’s notice, were found making excuses about finding a suitable house. But Mayawati was different. Overnight, she put up a sign declaring the 13, Mall Road bungalow to be a memorial for Dalit icon and her mentor Kanshi Ram.

Despite the 2013 judgment of the SC in ‘S D Bandi’ case banning conversion of government bungalows into memorials and despite UP amending Section 441 of Indian Penal Code to make overstaying in government bungalows a prosecutable crime under ‘criminal trespass’, her eviction will be difficult.

As the popular and almost unquestionable leader of the revered vote-bank in Dalits, anything said or done to her, even under SC order, has the potential of spiralling into an anti-Dalit narrative. No government would like to annoy Dalits when general elections are less than a year away.

There is history why Mayawati does not want to shift out of the 13, Mall Road bungalow, which is adjacent to her party office. Towards the end of her term as CM, the UP government in 2012 had spent nearly Rs 90 crore to rebuild, refurbish and remodel the house as per her tastes by extensively using pink Italian marble for flooring. The bungalow complex houses a 14-bedroom guest house. Who would voluntarily give up such a luxurious bungalow?

Moreover, she has experienced how the rigour of SC orders wane with retirement of the judge who authors it. Most politicians, who faced the wrong end of the stick from the SC, find themselves getting absolved years later when the matter is dealt by a set of judges completely different from the ones who had passed the order.

In 2003, a bench led by Justice M B Shah had directed CBI probe into the Taj Heritage Corridor scam. The bench continued to monitor the CBI investigation into the scam as well as Mayawati’s alleged disproportionate assets for two more years. The investigation was used as a political tool by the Union government under UPA rule and the SC was told that the agency had tangible proof of her disproportionate assets.

Nine years later, a bench headed by Justices P Sathasivam quashed the disproportionate assets FIR while observing that the SC had never asked for an investigation into Mayawati’s assets as the case before it pertained only to Taj Heritage Corridor scam. Whether the CBI probe had unearthed disproportionate assets or not did not matter to the new bench.

The Union government, till 20 years ago, used its discretion to keep influential journalists, writers, artists, NGOs and opinion makers happy by allotting them houses in Lutyens’ Delhi. This was questioned by the SC in Shiv Sagar Tiwari judgment [1997 (1) SCC 444]. During monitoring of the fact of the case, the SC found then urban development minister Shiela Kaul of abusing her powers to allot shops and stalls to her two grandsons, maidservant of her son, employee of her son-in-law and her friends.

On November 8, 1996, the SC imposed an exemplary fine of Rs 60 lakh on her for acting arbitrarily while handling public property and violating shop allotment norms framed by her in 1994 which mandated inviting of tender. Less than

six years later, another threejudge bench headed by Justice G B Pattnaik waived of the penalty amount taking into consideration that an out of power Kaul was ailing.

Satish Sharma, who as petroleum minister distributed retail outlets (petrol pumps) and dealerships in LPG and kerosene as a largesse, was fined Rs 50 lakh by the SC on November 4, 1996. Nine years later, the CBI case against him, initiated by the Delhi HC and upheld by the SC, was closed as the law ministry under H R Bharadwaj refused to accord sanction for Sharma’s prosecution.

The infamous Jain hawala case too followed the same route. A bench led by then CJI J S Verma had created a scare among the political class by rigorously monitoring CBI probe through a newly devised judicial tool ‘continuous mandamous’ and directed filing of chargesheets against L K Advani, V C Shukla and other prominent politicians. All these efforts came to naught as the Delhi HC quashed the chargesheets saying the evidence was inadmissible. The SC later upheld the HC view.

JMM MPs bribery scam met the same fate. An ill gotten majority by P V Narasimha Rao government in 1993 threatened to send the ex-PM to jail. But the SC rescued him of the ignominy. The story in the coal scam is also similar. While minister of state for coal Santosh Bagrodia faced prosecution, the SC stayed former PM Manmohan Singh’s prosecution though the role of both were similar as per the CBI chargesheet.

The all too familiar leniency to SC orders may not follow the beaten track as far as vacating government bungalows by ex-CMs is concerned because the order was passed by a bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is known for his strictness in implementation of SC orders in letter and spirit. We will have to wait and watch how far Mayawati’s luck runs as Justice Gogoi is not going to retire soon. Rather, he is going to be the Chief Justice of India in October.

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