HC refuses to stay sessions court order quashing summons to Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry

In some reprieve for ousted Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry, the Bombay High Court today refused to stay a sessions court order quashing a summons issued to him in a Rs 500-crore defamation suit.

Justice N W Sambre admitted for further hearing a petition filed by Tata Group’s managing trustee N Venkatramanan challenging the lower court’s order of December.

The sessions court had quashed the summons, issued against Mistry and others by a metropolitan magistrate in July 2017.

“The petition filed by Venkatramanan has been admitted and posted for hearing on June 25. The high court refused to stay the sessions court order,” Mistry’s counsel Mahesh Jethmalani said.

In his petition, Venkatramanan termed the sessions court order as “arbitrary and illegal” and said it overstepped its jurisdiction while examining merits of the case.

Last year, Venkatramanan filed a criminal defamation complaint in the magistrate’s court against Mistry and others for making “false” statements and sought damages of Rs 500 crore.

An e-mail sent by Mistry to the directors and trustees of Tata Trusts contained “defamatory statements” against him, Venkatramanan said.

According to the complaint, after Mistry was ousted as the chairman of Tata Sons on October 24, 2016, he, in an e-mail, alleged that fraudulent transactions had taken place at the group’s aviation venture, AirAsia India, and accused Venkatramanan of having tried to cover them up.

The issue is now being probed by the Enforcement Directorate.

Venkatramanan said the e-mail, which was leaked to the media, caused irreparable damage to his reputation.

BMC Manholes would be covered : Bombay High Court

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) today told the Bombay High Court that around 1,500 manholes in the city would be covered to prevent accidents.

BMC lawyer Anil Sakhre said the corporation has already floated tenders for covering some 1,500 potentially-dangerous manholes with iron mesh or grill.

BMC’s submission was made before a bench of justices Shantanu Kemkar and M S Karnik which was hearing a public interest litigation.

The PIL was filed after Dr Deepak Amrapurkar, a renowned gastroenterologist from the city, died after falling into an open manhole on a flooded street near his house on August 29 last year.

The petitioners demanded action for preventing such accidents in future.

The BMC lawyer told the high court that in Amrapurkar’s case, the manhole had been removed illegally by some local residents so that the flood water could drain off. Police registered cases against them, advocate Sakhre added.

BMC workers never leave manholes open or unattended, the corporation lawyer said.

The court directed the BMC to file an affidavit within two weeks giving details of the proposal to cover manholes with iron grills and the tender floated for the same.

‘No more tareek pe tareek’, : Bombay High Court

“No more ‘tareek pe tareek’. Enough is enough,” an irked Bombay High Court said here while ruling out any more adjournments in a case, and imposed a fine of Rs 4.50 lakh on a public charitable trust for failing to file an affidavit since 2016.

Justice Gautam Patel last week passed the order directing ‘Ram Nagar Trust’ to pay Rs 1,000 per day for the 450-day delay ( Rs. 4.5 lakh in total) to the defendant in the suit filed by the trust in 2009.

The court noted that in September 2016, the high court had framed issue in the suit and directed both the plaintiff (trust) and the defendants to submit before the registry an affidavit of documents they would be relying on.

Last week when the suit came up before Justice Patel, the trust’s lawyer sought a week’s time to submit the same.

This was opposed by the defendants who claimed that time and again adjournments were being sought by the plaintiff trust.

Agreeing to this, Justice Patel in his order said, “No more adjournments. No more ‘tareek pe tareek’. Enough is enough”.

“That a court will endlessly grant adjournments is not something that parties or advocates can take for granted. Nor should they assume that there will be no consequences to continued defaults and unexplained delay,” Justice Patel said.

The famous dialogue ‘tareek pe tareek’ from Bollywood movie ‘Damini’ starring Sunny Deol has virtually become synonymous with the plight of litigants who have to wait for years and even decades for justice due to frequent delays in the judicial process.

Computing the delay from November 25, 2016 till date, the court said this was a period of around 450 days.

“Computed at Rs 1000 per day for each day’s delay for 450 days, the costs work out to Rs 4,50,000. This amount of Rs 4,50,000 will be paid to the first defendant as costs by 7th March 2018,” the court said.

The court added that fixing random figures like Rs 5,000 or Rs 25,000 was counter productive as parties think such costs are negligible.

“The costs must be real. They must be sufficient to convey the message that non-compliance with our orders brings consequences; that these consequences are inevitable and unavoidable; and the consequences are not some piffling trifle,” Justice Patel said.

He refused to accept the contention of the plaintiff’s lawyer that it was a charitable trust and that the suit pertained to land for educational purposes.

“This is even more shocking. That a trust should be so utterly negligent about its own case is reason enough to warrant immediate action against the trustees and have every one of them removed. A public trust has a higher duty of care, not a lower one,” the court said.

“We will make exceptions for the poor, the illiterate, the helpless. They will receive our protection. But educated trustees charged with a solemn fiduciary duty will not get a free pass only because they claim to espouse some worthy cause,” Justice Patel noted.

Govt-appointed toll collection firms need to pay stamp duty: Bombay High Court

 The Bombay High Court has said private firms appointed by the government for octroi and toll collection from vehicles have to pay stamp duty.

A division bench of justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre was recently hearing a petition alleging non-payment of stamp duty amounting to crores of rupees since 2005 by a private firm which was appointed by seven municipal corporations in Maharashtra for collection of octroi and toll.

Relying on a judgement passed by the Supreme Court last month on a similar issue, the high court said the octroi collecting contractors have to pay stamp duty under the provisions of the Bombay Stamp Act. “Such agreements between the civic body concerned and private companies cannot escape stamp duty,” it said.

“The Supreme Court has already decided the issue. Now, it is not debatable,” the court further said.

The petition, filed by city resident Jeet Pratap Satyanarayan Singh through lawyer Laxman Kanal, said a company, M/s Konark Infrastructure, was the toll and octroi collecting agent of the municipal corporations in Bhiwandi, Nashik, Kalyan-Dombivali, Ulhasnagar, Mira-Bhayander and Akola.

“The corporations entered into an agreement with the said company each year and hence, it was the duty of the company to pay the stamp duty and also register the documents with the registrar, under the Registration Act,” Kanal argued.

According to the petition, Konark Infrastructure had not paid the said charges from 2005, resulting in loss to the public exchequer to the tune of crores of rupees.

The bench, after the order on February 22, disposed of the petition.

Bombay High Court fed up with state government over delay in giving land for law University

 Training its guns on the recently-held event ‘Magnetic Maharashtra’ business summit, the Bombay High Court today said the state government had time to hold such mega events but had still not decided on the allotment of land to set up the Mumbai campus of the Maharashtra National Law University.

A division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharati Dangre said the issue of allotment of land for the university has been pending since a year-and-a-half and that now it was “fed up” with the delay.

“The government has time to hold mega events like the one held last week. Now before the next mega event is held, we want this issue to be resolved,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed last year by an advocate, Pradeep Havnur, claiming that no concrete steps were being taken to hand over the land to set up the MNLU.

“We do not understand why this issue has been pending for one-and-a-half years now. We are fed up. We direct the principal secretary of the state revenue and forest department to appear before us with all concerned files on February 28,” the court ordered.

The government announced the project with much fanfare but then took no steps later, the court said.

The bench was informed by the petitioner’s counsel, Milind Sathe, that a government resolution was issued in June 2016 allotting a plot of land, admeasuring 60 acres, in suburban Gorai but a major part of the land was later handed over to the Airports Authority of India.

Sathe said the concerned state department was now trying to identify another plot for the university.

Irked by this, the court said, “We do not understand how such confusion could be created at a senior level. This is, simply, lack of coordination.”

The bench also noted that the government, by allotting part of the Gorai land to the AAI, was also toying with the safety and security of lakhs of persons who use the city airport.

The land, which was allotted to the AAI to shift some offices from the airport in order to decongest the latter, is now embroiled in litigation.

“Have you (government) seen the congestion at the Mumbai airport? It is like a calamity waiting to happen. There is no open space around the airport. There is a parking lot 40 meter away. There are hutments and so many other structures just meters away,” the court said.

“We should salute the pilots for finding the air strip in Mumbai and landing properly. Hats off to them,” Justice Dharmadhikari said.

According to the petition, the MNLU is presently operating from a temporary transit-type ground-plus-one structure.

It contended that the National Law Universities Act 2014 was enacted to establish such universities in states for the development and advancement of legal education, to impart specialised and systematic instructions and training and research in law.

The bench today said because of the delay on the part of the government, it was losing good law students to private colleges.

Sohrabuddin case : Bombay High Court poser to CBI over Tulsiram Prajapati’s escort team

The Bombay High Court today asked the CBI to confirm whether the four police officials, who had accompanied Tulsiram Prajapati, an aide of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, to Ahmedabad just days before his death in an alleged encounter, had gone with him as his escort team on previous occasions as well.

The court’s question came after Rajasthan IPS officer Dinesh M N, one of the discharged accused in the encounter case of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, a gangster, his wife Kausar Bi, and their aide Prajapati, denied all charges against him.

Dinesh claimed he had no role in choosing the escort team officials who had accompanied Prajapati to Ahmedabad for a court hearing.

According to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), soon after the court hearing in December 2006, Prajapati was killed in a fake encounter by a team of Gujarat and Rajasthan police officers.

However, the four officials, who were part of his escort team, made up a false story about Prajapati having escaped from custody while they were returning to Udaipur in a train, it said.

Inspector Narayan Singh, ASI Yudhveer Singh and constables Dalpat Singh Rathod and Kartar Singh, from the Surajpol police station in Udaipur, were part of the escort team that had accompanied Prajapati from Udaipur Central Jail to Ahmedabad for the court hearing.

Dinesh’s counsel Raja Thakre told the high court that since the jail authorities had asked for an escort team on the ground that they did not have adequate number of officials, he merely directed the Surajpol police to send a team.

“The team was not chosen by me. Therefore, even if one is to presume for a minute that there was a conspiracy to kill Prajapati, I couldn’t have played any role in it.

“I didn’t know which police officers were going with him,” Thakre said.

Justice Revati Mohite-Dere, however, remarked that some of the compilations of witness statements submitted by Rubabuddin Shaikh, the brother of Sohrabuddin Shaikh, had pointed out that the same team of the four officials had travelled with Prajapati between Gujarat and Rajasthan for court hearings on some previous occasions as well.

The judge asked the CBI to confirm this.

The high court is conducting a day-to-day hearing on pleas filed by Rubabuddin Shaikh challenging the discharge of three accused and the CBI challenging the discharge of two of the 15 accused from the case by a special court between August 2016 and September 2017.

Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Kausar Bi were killed in an alleged fake encounter by the Gujarat Police in November 2005, while Prajapati was killed in another alleged fake gunbattle by the Gujarat and Rajasthan Police in December 2006.

Of the 38 people charged by the CBI in the case as accused, 15, including senior IPS officers DG Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Dinesh MN, and BJP President Amit Shah were discharged by the special CBI court in Mumbai between August 2016 and September 2017.

Can’t wait for you to deposit money any longer : Bombay High Court

The Bombay High Court today observed that Pune-based builder D S Kulkarni, who is facing cases for allegedly cheating investors, has failed to keep his promise to deposit at least Rs 50 crore with the court.Kulkarni, a prominent builder, and his wife Hemanti were booked by the Pune Police last year for allegedly cheating over 2,500 investors to the tune of Rs 230 crore.

The couple approached the high court seeking pre-arrest bail in December. The court granted them an interim protection from arrest after they assured they would deposit Rs 50 crore within a fortnight.Kulkarni’s lawyer Ashok Mundargi told the court today a sum of Rs 12 crore has been arranged, and that Buldana Urban Multistate Co-operative Credit Society has agreed to loan them Rs 100 crore within a week.To this, Justice Sadhana Jadhav said, “I was waiting for Rs 50 crore to be deposited.

I gave the applicants over three weeks’ time to deposit. Now I will not accept any more assurance.”Your assurances have fallen flat. You do not have a single penny in your pocket and even you know this,” she said.As directed by the court at the earlier hearing, Kulkarni and his wife appeared before the court today.The court posted the matter for further hearing on February 22 when it would pass order on the couple’s anticipatory bail applications.Cases of cheating were registered by the Economic Offences Wing of Pune police after investors complained that Kulkarnis’ firm, which had floated a fixed deposit scheme, was neither paying them interest nor returning the principal amount.

Prominent builder Niranjan Hiranandani moves HC seeking to quash of CBI charge sheet

Prominent builder Niranjan Hiranandani has approached the Bombay High Court seeking to quash the charge sheet filed against him by the CBI in a case of alleged corruption, criminal conspiracy and cheating.

Hiranandani, 61, sought the quashing and setting aside of the charge sheet filed against him in September 2010 by the CBI’s Anti-Corruption Bureau for not depositing provident funds of the employees of his group to the tune of Rs 9 crore.

The ACB had charged him under sections pertaining to criminal conspiracy, cheating and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice V K Tahilramani recently posted the petition for hearing on February 14 and granted an interim stay on the trial against Hiranandani.

The builder approached the high court after a co-accused, K Gopalan, was discharged from the case.

“The petitioner cannot be vicariously held responsible merely because he is a director of the company,” the petition said.

According to the prosecution, the Hiranandani Group had not deposited provident funds of its employees between 2003 and 2006.

The alleged non-payment, as per a report submitted by the Employee Provident Fund Organisation in its departmental enquiry, was to the tune of Rs 9.36 crore.

Apart from Hiranandani, two employees of the group and four officers from the EPFO have been arraigned as accused in the case.

Following the EPFO’s report, the CBI lodged an FIR in the case in March 2008

Mumbai University’s highest authority too can’t relax 50% attendance rule: HC

The Bombay High Court has held that the Mumbai University’s ordinance mandating a minimum 50 per cent attendance was in the interest of students and thus, even the highest authority in the university had no power to allow any undue relaxation in the rule.

In the order passed on Thursday, a bench of justices B R Gavai and B P Colabawalla also held that the discretionary powers over students’ attendance was vested only with the colleges’ respective attendance committees and their principals and that the university can’t claim to be the “supreme appellate authority” in such cases.

The bench was hearing a petition filed against the Mumbai University’s grievance cell by a college in Kandivli.

The petitioner, B K Shroff College, had alleged that the university’s cell did not take strict action against the attendance defaulters and that it often allowed such students, who did not have the minimum requisite attendance, to appear for exams.

The petitioner alleged that in March 2017, about 100 commerce students were barred from appearing for their second semester exams since they had less than 50 per cent attendance.

Thirty-eight of these students had approached the university’s grievance cell (commerce) and it asked the college to allow the defaulters to take the exams despite the fact that they had less than 50 per cent attendance.

The university’s ordinance on students’ attendance mandates that each student maintains 75 per cent attendance.

However, the college principals have the power to condone deficiency in attendance up to 25 per cent, if the deficiency is on account of bonafide exigencies, and was approved by the college attendance committee.

The university’s counsel, advocate Rui Rodrigues, however, told the high court that the university’s grievance cell intervened and granted relief to the students only if it was convinced that the relief was a well-deserved one.

“The ordinance is made by the university itself so the university is the ultimate appellate authority and can have the power to use its discretion on a case-to-case basis,” Rodrigues said.

He also cited a previous judgement of another bench of the high court that had granted relief in a similar case after holding that the university was the supreme appellate authority when it came to academic disputes.

The bench, however, rejected the above argument.

“A strict view on attendance must be maintained in the larger interest of not only the student, but also of the institution or university. The ordinance is meant to protect the interest of the state and it can’t be implemented haphazardly. Even the highest authority in the university has no power to allow any undue relaxation in the rule.

“We can’t accept the argument that the university is the supreme appellate body. Any relaxation in case of bonafide exigencies can be granted only by the college committee and the principal and even then a student must have minimum attendance of 50 per cent,” the bench said.

“A student can’t do well unless he or she attends classes and follows the rules of his or her institute. The university must remember that it is the protector or custodian of the academic interest of the students,” the bench said.

On a previous hearing, the HC had directed the college to declare its results and permit the students to continue in the third semester after they gave an undertaking stating they would maintain 75 per cent attendance in future.

Appointments to public bodies must be based on talent: Bombay High Court

Observing that appointments to all public bodies must solely be based on “talent,” the Bombay High Court has denied relief to a group of lower cadre employees of the city civic body seeking that they be absorbed against the existing vacancies for clerks.

A bench of Justices S C Dharamadhikari and Bharati Dangre recently held that since the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) was a public body, it was required to maintain transparency and the highest standards of work.

Thus, it would gain more by employing candidates with “more calibre, and fresh blood and vigour,” through fresh selection procedures from time to time, the court said.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by 15 ‘grade 4’ employees of the BMC.

As per the petitioners, in 2011, the BMC issued a circular advertising vacancies for the post of clerks. The eligible candidates were to take an examination and secure the minimum qualifying marks of 40 out of 100.

Since the petitioners met the eligibility criteria, they decided to take the exam as well.

However, while the BMC had around 329 vacancies, 475 applicants secured the minimum qualifying 40 marks. The BMC decided to hire only those who had secured 49 marks and above.

Thus, those who had secured between 40 and 48 marks and made it to the qualifying list, lost out on the job.

In 2014, a reply to an RTI query revealed that the BMC still had vacant positions for clerks.

Subsequently, 15 of those who had lost out on the job in 2011 approached the high court, seeking that they be appointed on the basis of their having qualified in the exam.

The BMC opposed their demand, saying that since 2011 it had made many changes to the eligibility criteria and the minimum qualifying marks for appointments as clerks.

The BMC’s counsel, advocate Anil Sakhre, said the validity of a merit list was only for a year and that the corporation had decided to conduct fresh examinations to fill up the new vacancies.

Sakhre said some of those who had lost out on the job in 2011 had appeared for subsequent exams, secured higher marks and even got appointments at better posts in the BMC.

The bench agreed with the corporation’s stand and said several previous judgements of the Supreme Court established that merely making it to a qualifying or merit list did not grant one the right to employment.

“We are unable to accept the contentions advanced by the petitioners that by clearing a written examination and securing minimum marks, they have the right of being appointed,” the judges said.

“It is a settled position in law that mere placement in the select list or panel does not by itself entitle a candidate to seek appointment,” the bench said.

Many new eligible candidates might appear over the years, and if a public body sticks with just one merit list indefinitely, till all vacancies are filled, it will lose out on candidates with more talent and calibre, it further said.

The public bodies are expected to adopt a transparent procedure and hire new talent, the court said.

“It would be more gainful for the public bodies to secure candidates with fresh blood and vigour and more merit by initiating a fresh selection procedure based only on talent,” the bench said.

“If the public bodies are permitted to operate the select list for years together, it would become a tool for nepotism,” the court said while dismissing the petition.