Gowda building fate in court
Our Legal Correspondent
New Delhi, Oct. 29: The Supreme Court today reserved its judgment on whether Union law minister V. Sadananda Gowda had built an illegal five-storey structure in Bangalore, while avoiding any strong observations in a case where an earlier ruling had gone against the BJP leader.
In October 2012, Karnataka High Court had said the entire construction was in violation of rules, prompting Gowda's appeal in the top court.
If the apex court rules against Gowda when it finally pronounces its verdict - probably in another fortnight or a month - it might prove politically costly for the minister, apart from a back-to-back setback.
Earlier this month, the top court had struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act as "unconstitutional", particularly as it permitted the Union law minister to pick and transfer judges.
A five-judge constitution bench that quashed the NJAC Act had expressed concern that the involvement of a politician like the law minister would erode judicial independence.
Today, counsel Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeval told Justices Madan B. Lokur and S.A. Bobde that the plots the Karnataka government had allotted to Gowda and BJP MLA D.N. Jeevaraj should be reclaimed.
"The entire events show blatant disregard and violation of the law by a person who is currently the Union law minister himself and was at that time the chief minister of Karnataka," Bhushan told the bench.
Bhushan and Sachdeval were appearing for Nagalaxmi Bai, a local journalist.
Senior counsel Basvaraj Patil, who defended the Union minister, said there was no illegality in the construction.
The bench reserved its verdict after arguments that lasted three days.
The plots had been allotted to Gowda, when he was deputy leader of the Opposition, and Jeevaraj in August 2006 by the then JDS-BJP government headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy.
The two BJP leaders had given an undertaking to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) that the independent plots would be used only for constructing one-plus-one-floor residential apartments.
The undertaking said if "any condition of site allotment" was violated, the authorities were "empowered to resume (reclaim) such building and site without granting any compensation".
But a public interest petition in Karnataka High Court alleged that the BJP leaders amalgamated the plots and raised a five-storey commercial complex, although the authorities had rejected their application for merging the plots and building the complex.
Nagalaxmi Bai, the petitioner, said the structure should be razed.
On October 19, 2012, the high court upheld the petition, saying the conditions in the lease-cum-sale agreement and zonal regulations did not permit construction of a multi-storey building, and directed the authorities to reclaim the land allotted to the two leaders.
The court also said "if such violations... committed by persons occupying... positions capable of wielding influence" were "overlooked" by the judiciary, "public confidence" in the administration of justice and the judicial system would "be eroded".
Gowda, who had briefly ruled Karnataka, challenged the high court judgment through a special leave petition he filed in the Supreme Court on January 2, 2013.
The apex court, which had then stayed the high court order, took up the appeal after nearly three years.