NEW DELHI: While the Right to Information Act is commonly regarded as a tool to expose corruption, it has been employed in the case of a controversial high court judge to deflect allegations of corruption against him and pave the way for his promotion.
The Supreme Court collegium has recommended Justice Jagdish Bhalla of Allahabad High Court to be promoted as chief justice of Kerala High Court despite an official finding against his wife in a Noida land scam.
In its meeting on December 14, the collegium headed by the then chief justice, Y K Sabharwal, disregarded this damaging finding on the basis of a clean chit given by the Uttar Pradesh revenue board in response to an RTI application filed by a third party.
The Centre is still processing the collegium's proposal to promote Justice Bhalla despite the dissent recorded by Supreme Court judge, B N Agrawal.
The controversy began with the finding given by successive reports in 2005 by two revenue officials of Noida (sub divisional magistrate and additional district magistrate) stating that the judge's wife, Renu Bhalla, had bought 7,200 sq metres of prime land on Noida/Greater Noida Expressway from a "land mafia" five years ago for Rs 5 lakhs when its official circle price was Rs 72 lakhs and market price was Rs 7.20 crores.
These reports could well have harmed Justice Bhalla's career prospects since he was, by virtue of his seniority, due to be promoted to the rank of chief justice. But what saved him was the RTI application filed in August by one Charan Singh, resident of a village near Noida, asking for information from the state revenue board on the land scam in which Justice Bhalla's wife had figured. TOI has accessed the file notings that have been made on this judicially sensitive RTI application.
Rather than sticking by the damaging finding already given against the Bhallas by two of its officials, the revenue board chairperson, Neera Yadav, ordered a fresh probe in the matter on September 15 on the basis of the RTI application.
Incidentally, Yadav herself is implicated in another Noida land scam which erupted a decade ago. And only last week, the Supreme Court ordered the state government to resume departmental proceedings against her in that regard.
In pursuance of Yadav's order in connection with Justice Bhalla's case, an officer on special duty, Vishal Bharadwaj, gave a report on October 12 contradicting the earlier finding that the Rs 5 lakhs paid by Mrs Bhalla in 2002 for the land was far below the price it commanded then.
While admitting that the Noida collector had fixed a higher circle rate in 2002, Bharadwaj questioned the basis on which the earlier reports concluded that the 7,200 sq metre land bought by Mrs Bhalla should have been registered for Rs 72 lakhs instead of Rs 5 lakhs. He said that several other private persons sold their land that year for less than the circle rate of Rs 20 lakhs per hectare.