The Punjab and Haryana High Court recently ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe a land dispute case in which a judge has been accused of colluding with the accused persons [Guru Nanak Vidya Bhandar Trust, Daryaganj, New Delhi v. State of Punjab and others].
Pertinently, the High Court also referred the allegations against the Civil Judge (Junior Division)/Judicial Magistrate - Ist Class Navreet Kaur to the concerned administrative judge (a High Court judge) for “information and necessary action if any."
"This Court does not consider it appropriate to comment further on the same (allegations against the civil judge). Registry is directed to place reports received from respondent No.8 along with documents and the paper-book of the instant petition along with orders passed on different dates before the Hon'ble the Administrative Judge of the concerned District for information and necessary action if any," the Court directed.
Justice Pankaj Jain of the High Court said that the facts of the case revealed a shocking tale of how the process of law was abused by unscrupulous elements.
The petitioners had called it 'forum shopping' but it seems to be beyond that, the High Court added before directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate the case.
“This Court is quite sanguine that Central Bureau of Investigation shall conclude the investigation expeditiously preferably within six months,” the bench said.
The Court observed the manner in which the legal process was employed to serve the “illegal designs of troublemakers” in this case and the conduct of the Punjab Police in shifting its stand every now and then called for a thorough and detailed investigation by an independent agency.
“The obtrusion that impinges upon the system needs to be nipped in the bud and the vigil needs to be on the high against any pollutant,” Justice Jain said adding that the system cannot afford “self inflicted scars."
The case pertained to the ownership of a land worth ₹100-crores, which belonged to Delhi-based Guru Nanak Vidya Bhandar Trust in Punjab’s Mohali district.
A first information report (FIR) registered at Police Station Zirakpur alleged that certain persons had created an “imposter trust” and forged documents to gain title over the land.
The FIR, which concerned 8 acres of land in Mohali’s Zirakpur, mentions that this land was purchased in 1986 and that the possession of the land has been with the trust since then.
Besides alleging forgery of documents to grab the land, the complaint also alleged that the accused persons had entered the property in March 2022 to beat up the security guards there. The CCTV cameras installed there were also allegedly destroyed.
The charitable trust eventually approached the High Court earlier this year seeking a probe by the CBI or a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the alleged illegal attempts to take over the trust's land.
The accused also managed to get an ad-interim injunction in a civil suit filed before a court in Dera Bassi, the trust submitted.
However, the order was later vacated with the observation that it was obtained by portraying documents in a wrong manner.
Allegations Against Civil Judge
The case took an interesting turn in February this year when the High Court was told that a lawyer in Bathinda had managed to secure two questionable orders from judge Navreet Kaur in cases that were unrelated to the trust or its land dispute.
In these two unrelated cases, Judge Kaur had allowed an application filed by advocate Vikas Kumar to summon a senior officer of the bank where the trust had its accounts. These applications had also called for a disclosure of the trust's accounts with the bank.
The petitioner trust alleged that their account details were being sought for in such cases, even though the trust was not connected with such cases in any manner.
The judge was, therefore, asked to explain her actions by the High Court.
In her response, the judge could not deny that the statement of the bank official summoned by her was recorded in her presence although she was unable to explain why his testimony was required.
“Her silence with respect to the relevance of evidence even while the testimony was being recorded remains amiss even today,” the High Court said.
Though the Court refused to comment any further on this aspect, it termed her response “evasive."
In this backdrop, the Court observed that it was obvious that various stakeholders in the system who were expected to be on the right side of law were apparently caught on the other (wrong) side.
Pertinently, on October 5, advocate Vikas Kumar admitted before the High Court that the bank records summoned by him through judge Kaur’s Court had no relevance to the case before her.
He even claimed that he inadvertently filed the application for such a summons and tendered an unconditional apology.
The High Court, however, ordered the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana High Court to look into the matter and take appropriate action.
Court raps Punjab Police
The Court also criticised the police for its shifting views on the matter, opining that this did not augur well for the investigating agency especially when the case was pending before the High Court.
“This shows that neither the offence is routine nor the precipitator can be taken lightly,” the Court added.
In August 2023, the police had called for the cancellation of the FIR in this case, while submitting that the matter was essentially a land dispute.
However, on October 18, the police changed their stand and said that a charge sheet had been filed against three accused and that the role of others accused was still under investigation.
The Court has now ordered that the probe be handled by the CBI.
The Court passed the order while opining that the abuse of the process of law alleged in this case called for a detailed investigation so that the trust of the litigants in the system does not erode.
The trial court was also restrained from proceeding further in the matter till completion of the investigation.
Senior Advocate RS Rai with advocates PS Ahluwalia, Jagat Vir Singh Dhindsa and Nitish Pathak represented the petitioner-trust.
Senior Deputy Advocate General Tarun Aggarwal represented the State of Punjab.
Senior Advocate Sumeet Goel with advocates Satuabeer Singh, Tajveer Singh and Ashish Pundir represented an applicant.
Senior Advocate Anand Chibber with advocate Ateevraj represented a respondent. Advocate Nimanyu Gautam also represented one of the respondents.