Days before his retirement, Acting Chief Justice VM Sahai has kicked up quite the storm in the Gujarat High Court. Impleading twenty-seven former and sitting members of the Indian higher judiciary, and eventually forcing the Supreme Court to intervene, the former judge has forced the issue of judicial propriety back into the national limelight..For now..Based on two, separate letters written by former High Court judges, the suo moto PIL has sought a deeper scrutiny into certain land allotments made to judges..At the heart of the matter lies the Neetibaug Co-operative Housing Society, twenty-five thousand square meters of land situated close to the Gujarat High Court. The housing society rests on land specifically earmarked for the residences of former and current High Court judges, a plan that was first approved by the then Chief Justice, Bhavani Singh, in 2005..Three years later, in November of 2008, the state government passed a resolution allowing for plot allotments of four hundred square meters each. Of this, seventy square meters would be sold at market price, the rest at a discount. The plots were to be offered to sitting judges (as of April 2005) as well as those who had retired after January of 1998..The allotments were to be made through the offices of the High Court Registry..What followed next though is unclear..According to the letter written by former Gujarat High Court judge, Justice BJ Sethna, “some” High Court judges “directly informally participated” in the discussion that followed, and “manipulated with the State government” to get the plots directly, and not through the High Court’s Registry..The letter also alleges that the cut-off date of April 2005 was unilaterally changed, and that judges who were sitting Chief Justices of other High Courts as of November 2008 were included in the list..The second letter, written by former judge KR Vyas, is equally blunt. Alleging a unilateral change in the allotment policies, Justice Vyas says that this was done, “at the instance of some of the Hon’ble Judges”. Worse, Vyas J. says that some plots were kept “reserved for Judges who were yet to be appointed”, ignoring the “rightful claim” of retired judges..Both letters were written in the first week of July this year, and both failed to mention any particular judge’s name. Both sought VM Sahai’s assistance in securing a plot; Shethna’s letter even requests the Acting Chief to treat his letter as a public interest litigation..Which is what the former Acting Chief Justice did..Just past noon on August 10, a Bench of Justices VM Sahai and RP Dholaria asked four people to be present in the court at two-thirty that afternoon. The four were Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, Government pleader Manisha Lav, Ahmedabad’s Collector, and the District Registrar of Co-operative Societies. The Bench’s intentions were quite clear, but it was the Bar that made the first move..Arguing that this particular Bench should not be hearing the plea, Advocate General Trivedi made two specific averments. One, that one of the judges had publicly expressed his displeasure at not being allotted a plot. Two, Sahai J. had already carried out a preliminary enquiry into the allotments through the Collector, and hence was prejudiced in the matter..Both averments, and several others, were dismissed. All forty-two allottees were impleaded, with notice to be issued to each judge on that very day. The matter was to be listed the next day, and was heard by Justices VM Sahai and Mohinder Pal. On his part, Justice Dholaria recused himself from the matter..On August 11, with virtually every senior counsel appearing, and even an amicus in the form of senior counsel ND Nanavaty, fireworks were expected. The Bar, and the Bench, did not disappoint..According to reports in the Indian Express, amongst allegations traded back and forth, Justice VM Sahai stated in open court,.Mein Pandora’s Box open karna nahin chahta (The CJ has all the information. I don’t want to open a Pandora’s Box) .In the end, the court passed a 10-page order, framing ten issues that would require a detailed examination of the allotment process. The matter would now be heard by a three-judge Bench the very next day. To even the untrained eye, the Bench’s intentions were crystal clear..Which is when the Supreme Court stepped in, hearing a petition filed by former High Court judge, and one of the parties impleaded, Justice DA Mehta. On August 12, following an urgent mentioning by senior counsel Harish Salve, Chief Justice Dattu ordered a stay of proceedings before the High Court..Which is where the matter rests. Justice VM Sahai has retired, with a farewell that was described as “cold”. He is now replaced by Acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel, and the Supreme Court shall now hear proceedings as and when the matter is listed..However, to write this off as an incident concerning the Gujarat High Court alone, would be naive at best. Buried in the seductive scent of yet another scam, are larger questions relating to the judiciary as a self-sufficient (self-serving?) institution. More so on the administrative side, far away from a judicial member’s core expertise..Dealing with potentially contentious issues such as land allotments, would leave little time for a judge to do what she is expected to do best – dispense justice..And that would be a real tragedy indeed.