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.
10th September, 2016, Cuttack: One is puzzled by the accounting treatment for Justice Indrajit Mahanty's Rs 2.5 crore working-capital loan for his hotel, The Triple C. Lakhs of rupees are withdrawn and repaid every month in two SBI loan accounts in the name of "Justice Indrajit Mahanty" and strangely, not in the name of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., the company that has leased the hotel from him. As a High Court judge, Justice I. Mahanty gets a monthly salary of Rs. 1.35 lakhs, and therefore is liable to pay Income Tax. But repayment of principal plus interest could reduce or eliminate his taxable income. Suppose his tax returns are dodgy, can Income Tax authorities summon his lordship personally for questioning u/s 131 of Income Tax Act, and compel production of his lordship's books of account?
We asked Mr Binoy Gupta, a retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCA), who holds a Ph.D. in Law. His reply was: "There are no exemptions in any law for any Supreme Court or High Court Judges from any judicial or quasi judicial proceedings. Our department has taken action under the Income Tax Act against them."
We requested Mr Gupta for case studies (with or without the names of the judges) to substantiate his claim of having taken action against judges. His response was: "I can not give any instances today. But I stand by my statement that Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have no special status so far the applicability of Income Tax Laws are concerned."
And then Mr Gupta added that bringing a judge to justice is a tough job. He wrote: "If any govt. servant engages himself in business, his department can and does take action. But the procedure for taking action against Judges is far too complex... impeachment which is extremely difficult."
Given the absence of case studies and other details of judges being held accountable by Income Tax authorities, our gut feeling is: IT authorities will never dare to summon his lordship, because (a) they would be in awe of a high court judge, and (b) because the high court has superior jurisdiction over the Income Tax department, and not vice versa. Even if judges do not enjoy de jure immunity from quasi-judicial and administrative authorities, they enjoy de facto immunity. No government official will risk rubbing a high court judge the wrong way by questioning him, even if the law permits him to do so!
In return for such unquestioned authority and immunity, judges are expected to keep their affairs transparent and straightforward, by abstaining from business activities. Their income should ideally consist of their salaries, and interest on fixed deposits etc. -- nothing more complicated than that. To quote YK Sabharwal, former Chief Justice of India, who spoke on the Judicial Canon of Ethics, "Almost every public servant is governed by certain basic Code of Conduct which includes expectation that he shall maintain absolute integrity... manage his financial affairs in such a manner that he is always free from indebtedness, and not involve himself in transactions relating to property with persons having official dealings with him." Please note that seeking building permissions, bank loans, hotel licenses, etc. etc. are all transactions with the government, administration and public sector, who all have "official dealings" with a high court judge in his judge-like capacity. Such transactions adulterate the purity of Justice Indrajit Mahanty's judgment.
According to the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life (adopted by Full Bench of Supreme Court on7th May, 1997), "A Judge should not engage directly or indirectly in trade or business, either by himself or in association with any other person.
And according to the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002, "A judge shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to a reasonable observer to be free therefrom."
Read all these documents on judicial ethics and in that context, understand the significance of Justice I Mahanty's actions. Justice Indrajit Mahanty may or may not have broken any laws, but he is definitely in breach of ethics on multiple counts.
So, must we all remain silent like Gandhiji's three monkeys? Must we all adopt a policy of See-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil when it comes to judges? Must the adulteration of our judicial services be allowed to continue under cover of a conspiracy of silence?
7th September, 2016, Cuttack: Earlier this week, Justice Indrajit Mahanty of Orissa High Court admitted that he "carries a loan burden for his long-time business outfit", through an opinion piece that was written on his behalf titled "Media sensation at times hits great guys, hurts society" in The Pioneer. (The "loan burden" is a Rs 2.5 crore working-capital loan for his hotel, The Triple C, which was borrowed in 2009 from SBI. Till this day, amounts ranging between one and two lakh rupees are drawn and repaid every month in the name of "Justice Indrajit Mahanty".) The author, clearly adores Justice Mahanty, writes, "As a lawyer, he became too eminent too soon only because of his keen commonsense, command over the English language and the superb manner of making complex Acts simple for judges and clients alike. He drives points home the same way as smart kids do tricycles." The point of the article is that it is acceptable that Justice Indrajit Mahanty has a big business loan to his name, and runs a hotel, because of his love for humanity, and therefore, our article questioning the ethics of his actions is a "terribly misplaced allegation". The author argues, "Yes, there is a loan burden, not a robbery charge. Yes, he ran it to add value by generating employment for many. The only thing people would like to know is whether or not his ‘judicial conduct is appropriate and above board’; whether or not he is selling judgment, and if he has the knowledge and skills to help the suffering humanity."
Is this a reasonable argument?
The implications of a high judge taking a business loan from a bank, and using it to run a hotel, are far-reaching. Although Justice I. Mahanty is only 55 years old, he is already number two in seniority at Orissa High Court. Being the son of well-known Barrister Ranjit Mohanty, he is influential and well-connected in the legal fraternity. In the next 5-10 years, his career track can make him Chief Justice of Orissa HC, a Supreme Court judge and even Chief Justice Of India.
However, The Triple-C Hotel can be need not necessarily be a success story. Experienced businessmen like Vijay Mallya often fail to repay the banks; so, is it totally improbable that a part-time businessman like Indrajit Mahanty may fail to pay back what he owes to State Bank Of India?
What happens if Justice Indrajit Mahanty defaults and the matter goes to Debt Recovery Tribunal?
Does Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) or Debt Recovery Appellate Tribunal (DRAT) get jurisdiction over Justice Indrajit Mahanty?How will Justice Mahanty (who may by then be Chief Justice of Orissa High Court, a Supreme Court judge even Chief Justice of India) be an appellant or defendant before DRT or DRAT?
Does Justice Indrajit Mahanty appear before Orissa High Court?Suppose the order of DRAT is further appealed, can Justice Indrajit Mahanty be an appellant or defendant before Orissa High Court? If not, then what is the proper forum to hear the matter?
Can any tribunal or lower court entertain a matter against any judge of the higher judiciary in respect of his private affairs, such as bank loans or hotel business? Will such proceedings strengthen his public image as a judge, or will it damage it? And what will such cases do to the image of the judiciary?
If a high court or supreme court judge is before a lower court or tribunal, what happens to his superior jurisdiction over such lower court or tribunal? Won't this create a constitutional anomaly?
Apologists and admirers of Justice Indrajit Mahanty, please remember that this is not about one man's goodness or integrity, it is about the integrity of our judiciary as a whole.
Cuttack, 2nd September 2016: Justice Indrajit Mahanty became a judge of Orissa High Court in 2006, and he became a hotelier in 2009. Activist Jayanta Das broke the story on 8th August with documentary evidence given by judiciary whistleblowers. Kamyab TV, an Oriya TV channel, held a panel debateon this issue.In our press release issued three days ago, we asked whether it was ethical for any high court judge to be a businessman.
Justice I. Mahanty maintained a stony silence but on his behalf, the management of his hotel, The Triple C, issued a denial in The Indian Expresson the same day as our press release. The Triple C Hotel's press statement contradicts the signed affidavit of Justice I. Mahanty himself, and it actually makes this high court judge's actions look totally mysterious!
MYSTERY #1. The Indian Express story says, "A spokesperson of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt Limited (LGPL), which entered into a 15-year pact with Justice Indrajit Mohanty, clarified that lease/rent agreement for “Triple C” was signed in August, 2007. Chartered Accountant of LGPL R Sharma said possession of the property was handed over to the company in 2009 and it has been running the hotel ever since. LGPL has been paying lease rental for the premises after accounting for the income tax." And later on, it says, "Besides, the accusations that working capital had been availed for running hotel were found to be untrue as neither LGPL nor Justice Mohanty had taken any. Instead, a term loan was secured in 2007 for construction of the building. Application for an additional term loan was made in 2009 which was approved later in the year by State Bank of India."
But this begs the question: Why is Justice Indrajit Mahanty servicing a working capital loan of Rs 2.5 cr from State Bank of India, which he took in his own name in February 2009?Read SBI's loan sanction letter issued on 16th Feb 2009 in the name of Justice Indrajit Mahanty himself (and not in the name of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.) See below image:
Also, why is Justice I. Mahanty (and not the hotel management company) withdrawing and repaying lakhs of rupees every month? Read the bank statements showing drawals and repayments as recent as May 2015. See below image:
If not from The Triple C Hotel, from what source of income does Justice Indrajit Mahanty pay amounts like Rs 2 lakh every month? And if not for working capital of the hotel, for what purpose does Justice I. Mahanty withdraw lakhs of rupees every month? Will his lordship kindly clarify this?
MYSTERY #2: The Indian Express story says: "Contrary to the allegations that Justice Mohanty got record of rights of the land in 2006, available documents revealed that the land on which the hotel is located was purchased on October 16, 1981 by Barrister Ranjit Mohanty for his son, Justice Mohanty."
In that case, did Justice Indrajit Mahanty tell a lie in his affidavit? Why did he state,"That I have obtained a plot of land by way of Court Decree from the Court of the Subordinate Judge, first Court, Cuttack, in Title Suit no. 297 of 1981" Why didn't he mention anything about purchase of land by his father Barrister Ranjit Mahanty? See below image:
The Indian Express story concludes by saying:"Sharma said the attacks on the hotel are not only baseless but also motivated and have adversely affected its functioning."
Mr Sharma, do you really imagine that any of this is about the hotel? Oh come on, get real! It's not about The Triple C Hotel, and no, it's not about one over-privileged person named Indrajit Mahanty either. This is about the judiciary and its functioning, and the fundamental right of 1.3 billion citizens of India to be served by judges who are genuinely impartial and unbiased.