Monday, December 2, 2013

Punjab pays Rs. 1 cr to legal experts seeking annulment of Kuldip tribunal in SC

Prabhjit Singh, Hindustan Times Chandigarh, 
November 28, 2013

Notwithstanding its own affidavit in the court of law for re-opening the cases of fraudulent occupation of village common lands identified by the Justice Kuldip Singh tribunal in Punjab, the state has so far paid around Rs. 1 crore to legal experts in the Supreme Court seeking annulment of the tribunal.

In April 2013, the state had already paid over Rs. 50 lakh to the apex court lawyers when it submitted the affidavit in the Punjab and Haryana high court.

The deal stuck with the apex court lawyers, as notified on August 14, 2012, was to pay Rs. 5.5 lakh per appearance plus Rs. 1 lakh for each conference to senior advocate AK Ganguli and retainership fee of Rs. 1 lakh (including drafting of pleadings, besides instructing and briefing Ganguly, plus Rs. 50,000 per appearance separately to advocates Nikhil Nayyar and Ranjana Roy.

So far, 10 hearings have taken place in the apex court where the state filed the special leave petition (SLP) in August 2012, challenging the high court's jurisdiction to form such a tribunal.

With the last hearing taking place on November 18, 2013, the case is still in the stage of serving of notices to respondents. They mainly included the Mubarakpur village panchayat and the individual cultivators of the village 'shamlat' land.

Tribunal in limbo

In mid-July 2013, the SAD-BJP government was pleased when the tribunal's tenure lapsed in the absence of an extension, since then, to be given by the Punjab and Haryana high court.

Punjab's additional advocate general, Reeta Kohli, rightly acknowledges, "If the high court or the state did not extend the tenure (of the tribunal), then the tribunal also never asked for any further extension after its term was over."

Tribunal head Justice Kuldip Singh had expressed his inability to continue on "health grounds" in July, while its two other members BN Gupta and PN Aggarwal have so far not received any communique either from the high court or from the Punjab government whether to continue or not.

The tribunal office in Sector 17 here is intact with infrastructure, in the absence of any manpower, which the state government pleasantly withdrew in July itself.

Both Gupta and Aggarwal have not posed their queries for continuing in the tribunal.

"It (the situation) is a stalemate, and the matter is in the court, as you know" Gupta told HT, confirming that the tribunal members had not received any communication either from the state or the high court.

"We told the drivers of the official vehicles that they were not needed till further orders," he said.

What the SLP says in SC

* The impugned judgment of the high court (of forming the tribunal) is erroneous and liable to be set aside

* Neither the Constitution nor any statute empowers the high court to create or constitute quasi-judicial tribunals for adjudicating disputes

* High court erred in enlarging the scope of the writ petition, which was confined to a challenge to certain orders passed by the state authorities


What the state's affidavit commits in HC

* The cases involving fraud etc as identified by the tribunal will be re-opened

* Action will be taken against officials of the revenue and consolidation departments found involved

* The policy to exercise the dispossession, and recovery of profits from those who are shown in possession in terms of the latest 'jamabandi' entries (mutations), as suggested in the tribunal report, is being examined to be submitted in the high court in due course.

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