1 October, 2016, Cuttack: Before doing business with a judge's brother, think twice. In the year 2000, Ravenshaw, a 150-year-old college, signed an MOU to start professional courses in "public private partnership" with Star Computer Institute Pvt. Ltd., belonging to BJP politician Biswajit Mohanty, son of Barrister Ranjit Mohanty, and brother of Orissa High Court's second-seniormost judge Indrajit Mahanty. In 2011, this MOU was renewed for a further three years. Upon the MOU's expiry in 2014, Ravenshaw (which was now no longer just a college but a full-fledged university) decided not to renew their MOU with Star. In the process, Ravenshaw incurred the enmity of Biswajit Mohanty's elder brother, who proceeded to give them a taste of pure hell!
Ravenshaw is a grand old institution with 8000 students and 90 faculty members, and a sanctioned strength of 153 faculty. It became a University through an enactment in 2005, and was bound by UGC's guidelines, which said, "No university whether central/state/private can offer its programme through franchise agreement even for the purpose of conducting course through distant mode." But, given the money and prestige involved, businessman Biswajit Mohanty was in no mood to leave the campus peacefully. So the matter went into arbitration, and also, in November 2014, an FIR was registered against Biswajit Mohanty because he allegedly "entered the University campus with five other persons and misbehaved with staff and students of the ITM department using the most filthy language". The police complaint said that Biswajit Mohanty threatened them, saying, "If you don't refrain yourself coming to the ITM department, I would assault you by entering into your home".
And then, in March 2015, came the judgment of the district judge to the arbitration petition filed by Star Computer Institute while the arbitrator's final order was still awaited. The judgment upheld Ravenshaw's right to terminate the MOU. The FIR and this adverse judgment against Biswajit Mohanty provoked his big brother Indrajit Mahanty, who took all the high court cases concerning Ravenshaw into his hand.
Until then, Ravenshaw's cases were heard by single benches such as Justice S.C. Parija, Justice Biswanath Rath, and Justice Sanju Panda, and many orders and judgments were favourable to Ravenshaw. Multiple writ petitions filed in 2015 against a recruitment advertisement issued by Ravenshaw, were initially posted in the single judge benches of Justice B.N Rath, Justice Dr. B.R Sarangi and Justice Dr. A K Rath, and later, all recruitment matters were brought to the court of Justice B.R Sarangi, where they remained stayed for 7 months. Then, on 9th December 2015, a division bench of Justice D P Choudhury and Indrajit Mahanty overturned the earlier judgmentsfrom 2014, quashed the recruitment, and slammed Ravenshaw on almost every count. This bench -- dominated by Justice I Mahanty who is almost a decade senior to Justice Choudhury (currently the junior most judge in Orissa High Court) – went on to initiate two suomotu civil contempt proceedings. Between March and May 2016, Justice Indrajit Mahanty passed eight orders on various cases that showed Ravenshaw who was boss!
Was Orissa's Chief Justice Vineet Saran ignorant about Justice Indrajit Mahanty's special interest in Ravenshaw University? Or did he consciously allow Justice I Mahanty to use the court system to settle scores?
Unknown to India's common man, is our judiciary generally functioning in this way? Do many of our judges have an axe to grind? Is it normal for some judges to say to each other, "I want to teach that party a lesson, so transfer that case to me"? Do they quietly manipulate and attract some cases to their own court?
The main issue is not whether Justice Indrajit Mahanty is a good guy or a bad guy. It's also not whether his judgments and orders in Ravenshaw matters are judicially correct or otherwise. The key issue is, why did Orissa High Court allow Justice Indrajit Mahanty to give judgments on Ravenshaw, where he had a vested interest?
What happened afterwards: After activist Chittaranjan Mohanty, on behalf of the 8000 students of Ravenshaw, petitioned the Chief Justice of India and Chief Justice of Orissa High Court in July 2016, all Ravenshaw-related matters were taken away from Justice Mahanty.The division bench matters were assigned to a bench headed by Justice S.C. Parija and the single bench matters were assigned to Justice Debabrata Dash who hears all service matters. A PIL is about to be filed for review of the judgment and orders of the Division Bench headed by Justice I.Mahanty in Ravenshaw recruitment matter.
20th September, 2016, Cuttack: Justice Indrajit Mahanty – the second-seniormost judge of Orissa High Court -- hears cases and gives orders that enrich his brother Biswajit Mohanty, a well-known lobbyist for private educational institutions. Justice I Mahanty's many interim orders are in alignment with the commercial and political interests of his brother. Judges are expected to recuse himself from hearing cases where their kith and kin's interests are involved, but Justice Indrajit Mahanty overrides such niceties without batting an eyelid.
Indrajit Mahanty and Biswajit Mohanty are both sons of Barrister Ranjit Mohanty, and are both inheritors of the Barrister Ranjit Mohanty Group of Institutions. While Indrajit Mahanty is not directly hands-on in the education business, Biswajit Mohanty is chairman of the BRM Trust and runs many private educational institutes such as BRM International Institute of Technology (BRM-IIT). Biswajit Mohanty is also a trade unionist and lobbyist, who heads Odisha Technical College Association (OTCA), which lobbies for filling up more seats in such colleges, along with Odisha Private Engineering College Association (OPECA). OPECA files public interest litigations, writ petitions etc, while OTCA and Biswajit Mahanty maintain a slightly low-key presence. While their lobbying poses as championing the students' rights, bear in mind that more filled-up seats means fatter profits for Biswajit Mohanty and his fellow "educationists".
For the past 7-8 years, OTCA and OPECA are at loggerheads with Orissa state government, which is keen on making the CBSE-conducted Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE) the only criterion for filling engineering seats. The Orissa High Court division bench headed by Justice Indrajit Mahanty has leaned in favour of OTCA and OPECA.In 2014, Supreme Court stayed Orissa High Court's orders for holding a special JEE i.e. OJEE, but in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the high court division bench (which inevitably had Justice Indrajit Mahanty even while other judges, like Justice DP Choudhury and Justice BK Nayak, changed), ordered that a special OJEE (Orissa JEE) be conducted for seats remaining vacant after the JEE (Mains) counselling.
It is strange that although news items regularly appear about what Biswajit Mohanty says about JEE, and what orders Justice Indrajit Mahanty passes about JEE for that particular academic year, the media takes care to avoid mentioning the two brothers names in the same news item! The public may be fooled by this conspiracy of silence, but political parties are not fooled. Recognizing the value of his demonstrated power to sway the high court, BJP lovingly embraced "Pugi-bhai" Biswajit Mohanty in 2015, amist loud drama-baazi.
Being highly educated, intellectual and articulate, Judge Indrajit Mahanty understands the conflict of interest in hearing cases tied up with his brother's business. With open eyes, Justice I Mahanty keeps dishonouring his constitutional oath of office, whereby he swore to serve the country "without fear of favour". Thankfully, whistleblowers are giving us lots of documents to build up a convincing case for impeaching this Orissa High Court judge.