SC bench decides Rs 1,000cr Cidco plot case in minutes
MUMBAI: A two-judge Supreme Court bench last week dragged to itself and decided a 35-hectare Cidco prime land allotment case, which was listed before a three-judge SC bench, causing a senior lawyer to question the bench’s judicial propriety.
The bench headed by Justice C K Prasad ended within two minutes, and on an oral plea, a 12-year-long battle in favour of the winning bidder, for 88 acres of public land allotted at a throwaway price of Rs 33 crore.
Experts estimate the property is now easily worth over Rs 1,000 crore. “A lot of it is in the Coastal Regulation Zone land,” said an expert. Several acres, though, are open for construction of 3 or more FSI (floor space index) under the project.
The land at Sea Woods Estate in Nerul–four times the size of Oval Maidan–is the site for an 18-hole international standard golf course and country club with residential areas.
The winning bidder, Mistry Constructions, had challenged a 2010 Bombay high court order, which had set aside the bidding process as illegal, slammed Cidco for playing with public land and surreptitiously supporting the winning bidder and had called for fresh national bids with a reserve price of at least Rs 100 crore.
In January and February 2014, a bench of Justice C K Prasad and Justice Pinaki Ghose, though, passed suo motu orders, tagging the Cidco golf course tender case to an unrelated criminal appeal it was hearing.
The bench heard the matter even after de-tagging it and allowed the losing bidder, Makhija Developers, to withdraw its petition on an oral plea by its lawyer Senthil Jagadeesan, thus rendering the HC order non-existent. The petition had been decided by HC four years ago.
This prompted senior counsel Dushyant Dave to dash off a letter to the Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam.
Dave recounted the “disturbing” details of the events leading up to the hearing of a matter, he said, was “inexplicably snatched from a three-judge bench authorized to hear it”.
Dave, in his letter, said the issue raised a number of questions. “Why was the bench headed by Justice Prasad so keen to hear the land matter in such unnatural haste in violation of judicial propriety and decorum? How did it learn of it? Could it have, suo motu, with any lawyer or party requesting its tagging, tag it? In any case, the matters were unrelated, as senior counsel C U Singh who appeared in the criminal case had informed Justice Prasad who agreed, but said the common factor was Cidco.”
The letter added, “What was the SC registry doing? Couldn’t it have checked the matters were unconnected? After accepting and de-tagging it, ought not the matter to have been sent to the regular bench?”
Last May, a three-judge bench comprising then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabeer, and Justices Vikramjit sen and Sharad Bobde had rejected a compromise plan drawn up by the developers. The bench had observed that the “appeals were against certain findings of the Bombay HC, we are not inclined to accept the compromise arrived between Mistry and Makhija…”
“When such an order existed, could the two-judge bench have permitted the withdrawal?” several lawyers questioned later.
The appeal was listed for hearing on the merits. In the weekly list for February 18-20, it was listed at number 79 before a three-judge bench headed by Justice B S Chauhan.
On February 25, Justice Prasad held that since none of the lawyers for Mistry or Cidco opposed Makhija’s lawyers’ plea to “unconditionally withdraw”, it was accepted.
Cidco had not gone in appeal to the SC.
Cidco’s usual senior counsel Ajit Bhasme was not present in court; only a junior who did not speak represented Cidco that day.
Justice Prasad not only upheld the bidder, it also held that since Mistry Constructions have “spent huge amounts” and the project is old, Cidco is directed to “provide necessary assistance to the firm to complete the project without unnecessary delay”.
Dave said the judgment virtually “wished away without a debate the damning HC findings and directions for a re-tender. So, Mistry gets 35 hectares of prime land for a song.”
This is a matter which clearly demands “suo motu exercise of curative power” to remedy the gross abuse of process of court, said Dave to the CJI. He added, ”there is a strong feeling among young members that such machinations are hurting their future…and the Institution owes them a lot”.
Justice B H Marlapalle of the Bombay high court, since retired, who headed the bench and passed the order against Cidco under challenge, said if Dave’s letter’s contents are true, he would hang his head “in shame”.