Bombay High Court
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According to a recent ruling by the Bombay High Court no person, including judges, would be entitled to hold more than one house or tenement at a time in Maharashtra under any state government scheme. A combined bench of Justice B R Gavai and Bharti Dangre said that it is right for the government to float a scheme in order to allot residential units to judges and other persons at a concessional rate. But it is wrong for a person to take advantage of this and obtained more than one house, it would be said as using their position for unjust enrichment.

This decision was passed by the Bombay High Court on a PIL [Public Interest Litigation] that was filed by former journalist Ketan Tirodkar, while questioning the State Government’s decision to build a high-rise residential building in suburban Oshiwara for sitting HC judges.

In the petition, Tirodkar said that the procedure followed to allot houses in the said society was wrong and that a “pick-and-choose method” was being used. There are total 63 tenements in the building, out of which 39 have been allotted to sitting high court judges.

In his petition, Journalist Tirodkar also claimed that some of the judges, who were allotted flats in the building, already own houses under a different scheme of the Government. The High Court in its judgment directed the State Government to form a scheme according to which a person, including judges, would be entitled to only one house/tenement under any scheme in the State.

Although, a person needs to surrender the existing flat to the Government to be entitled for allotment in a better scheme wants to upgrade or opt for a flat in any other city, the court said. In the order, Judges said that there should be nothing wrong if the government floats a scheme for special category for such persons (judges).

The bench clearly defined how having one house/tenement from any of the schemes floated by the State Government or any other authority under its control and having multiple houses/tenements from the State Government are two different things.

The Bombay High Court in its order said that “We have no hesitation to observe that if a person gets the advantage of allotment of the tenements/houses from the government at a concessional rate on more than one occasions, it would amount to nothing else but using the office for unjust enrichment.”

The order further said that judges held an important constitutional office and as such, were expected to be people of the highest moral standards. The Bombay HC added that while it is always said that the judiciary is not answerable to anyone, the answer to this is that the judges are accountable to their own conscience. The court has directed the Government to draft a policy within six months.

In regard with the remaining 24 flats in the said building at Oshiwara, the Court directed the registrar general of the high court to draw up a list of sitting HC judges as per seniority and find out from them if they wished to opt for the said allotment and submit the list to the Government.