7 April 2015, India: OK, here’s a question: Can you and I make a profit of about Rs 90 lakh by selling a plot of government land before it is transferred to us? Can we sell it to a known crook and swindler at the height of his career? Answer: If we are common people, then no. But if we are high court judges, then yes, we can not only do it, but we can also be elevated to the position of a Chief Justice! Come, let us learn from Justice Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra, Chief Justice Of Manipur, how it is done.
Like all our High Court and Supreme Court judges, Justice Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra (http://hcmimphal.nic.in/judges.html) is immune to the laws of the land. When he was a High Court judge in Odisha, Mr. Mohapatra accepted a bribe of about Rs 90 lakh through a shady land deal with a chit-fund fraudster named Pradeep Sethy (http://tinyurl.com/pradeep-sethy), whose Artha Tatwa Chit Fund scam in Odisha was estimated by Supreme Court to be Rs 4,600 crore – roughly twice the size of the infamous Saradha scam in West Bengal. (Others put it at Rs 20,000 crore.) In this unusual sale of land, the Cuttack Development Authority actively cooperated with Justice Mohapatra. In connection with this same land transaction, Advocate General Ashok Mohanty was arrested last year (http://tinyurl.com/AG-ashok-Mohanty), but Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra -- then the Acting Chief Justice of Manipur High Court -- went on to be elevated to Chief Justice on 10th July 2014, well after the scandal became well-known in the public domain and the media! Isey kehte hain Independence Of Judiciary!
One however wonders about the dynamics of how this particular elevation happened. Did somebody bribe the members of the Supreme Court collegium on behalf of the hon’ble Mr Mohapatra? Or did one of the collegium judges highly recommend Mr Mohapatra as, relatively speaking, the cleanest judge available for the position of CJ of Manipur? Did this brother judge convincingly argue that a little bit of shady dealings, stamp duty evasion and money-laundering should be considered acceptable among the brotherhood of judges? Or was it the collegium’s considered decision that, since Justice Mohapatra was only exploiting well-known legal loopholes in Odisha's Stamp Act and other laws, it was legally acceptable?
(For the record, the government of Odisha was in the habit of making such discretionary land allocations to high court judges and others. This facility was widely known and exploited for years by VVIPs. (Read http://tinyurl.com/Odisha-land-allotments ). After this scandal, in December 2014, the government seems to have decided to mend its ways (http://tinyurl.com/Odisha-cancels-allotments ).
RTI Activist Jayanta Kumar Das, in his Letter Petition (http://tinyurl.com/Jayanta-Das-Letter2CJI ) to Chief Justice of India on 18th March 2015, presented a blow-by-blow account of Justice Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra's wrongdoings, with supporting evidence, and is awaiting some action. Tall hopes? Maybe. Wait and watch.
- On 11.10.2006, in his capacity of a judge of Odisha High Court, Laxmikanta Mohapatra applied for a government plot in Markata Nagar to Cuttack Development Authority (CDA). Within seven months, CDA allotted a 4000 square foot plot in Sector-11 in Bidanasi project area, Cuttack) and instructed him to pay Rs 9.8 lakhs. Having an ancestral property in Cuttack district (Stoney Road, Post- Candinichowk, P.S- Lal Bag, Dist – Cuttack), Mr Mohapatra was actually not eligible to get a government plot from CDA. So, his letter was evasively worded, stating that neither he nor his family owned land at Markata Nagar. After taking possession in July 2007, lthough the allotted plot was not yet transferred in his name, Laxmikanta Mohapatra proceeded to build a double storied building on the allotted plot. Read documents: http://tinyurl.com/Judge-gets-land
- On 14.02.2011, within four years of the allotment of government land to him, Justice Laxmikanta Mohapatra transferred the possession of this plot for a consideration of Rs one crore. The land was "sold" by means of a simple affidavit on ten-rupees stamp paper to Pradeep Kumar Sethy, the chit-fund baron. The mode of payment was not mentioned (Cheque? Cash? Any other means? Who knows?) The affidavit said, “I have taken over the possession of the plot on 23.7.2007 and lease deed has not been executed in my fabour (sic!) till date. The plot is double storied building is existing on the plot”. As Justice Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra was not the owner of this plot, he had no right to execute and register a sale deed or to transfers this plot in favour of any party. Indeed, no law in India or in Odisha empowers anybody to transfer or sell a property to any party by means of a mere affidavit… but that is precisely what this learned judge did! Read http://tinyurl.com/Sethy-buys-from-Judge
By means of this unlawful transaction, Justice Laxmikanta Mohapatra enabled chit fund operator Pradeep Kumar Sethy to do him an undue favour of about Rs 90 lakh. Simultaneously, the honourable judge broke the law to avoid paying at least Rs 5 lakhs stamp duty and registration. And last but not least, this person who is now Chief Justice of Manipur committed offences of money-laundering by accepting and creating black money from the chit fund operator – possibly in order to provide him some undue favours.
Cuttack Development Authority aided and abetted this unlawful transaction. It transferred this plot in the name of Sri Pradeep Kumar Sethy vide its Letter No.8098/CDA/Dated 23.4.2011 based on Justice Laxmikanta Mohapatra’s affidavit and a request letter written by Pradeep Sethy.
- Meanwhile, lakhs of people in Odisha started raising their voice against Artha Tatwa Chit Fund Company, its Chief Managing Director Pradeep Sethy and other directors for the nonpayment of their matured fixed deposits in different branch offices of the company. Anticipating his arrest, Pradeep Sethy approached the Advocate General of Orissa High Court Sri Ashok Mohanty for an undue favour, and a deal was struck.
Barely one and a half years after the land was transferred in his name, Pradeep Sethy made another affidavit dated 03.10.2012 transferring the land plot for a consideration of Rs 1,00,01,000/- (Rupees One Crore and One Thousand) only. Again, the mode of payment was not mentioned (Cheque? Cash?). This affidavit suggests, as CBI mentions in its chargesheet, that Advocate General Ashok entered into this transaction as a consideration for giving undue favours in Orissa high Court. Read http://tinyurl.com/Sethy-sells-to-AG
- A case was registered against Pradeep Sethyand his staff by Balasore Town Police for cheating innocent investors (Balasore Town P.S. Case No. 352 of 2012 dated 06.10.2012, U/S 420/506/34 I.P.C etc). Pradeep Sethy applied for anticipatory bail before Odisha High Court, on 09.10.2012 (Annexure- 21). Thanks to Advocate General Ashok Mohanty, this anticipatory bail was allowed. Pradeep Sethy and all his associates were released on anticipatory bail without production of the case diary on 18.10.2012.
- Soon afterwards, Cuttack Development Authority took steps to ensure that the bribe paid to Ashok Mohanty reached him, i.e. the transfer of the land to Ashok Mohanty, who was possibly anxious that the land plot may be seized by the authorities, along with other assets belonging to Sethy. So, by a form-letter dated 8th February 2013, it summoned Sethy to appear in person on the same day between 2 and 4 pm with necessary documents for signature verification and verification of his identity. It is not know by what mode this letter was delivered, and so one may presume that an urgent hand-delivery was made, possibly by the Advocate General himself! Read http://tinyurl.com/CDA-writes-to-Sethy
- In its preliminary charge sheet in the Artha Tatwa Chit Fund Scam Case, CBI states that the consideration of Rs one crore to Justice Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra came out of misappropriated funds from the Artha Tatwa company accounts. It says, "As per records, accused P.K. Sethy had purchased said building from Justice L.K. Mohapatra for consideration of Rs. 1,00,00,000/- during April, 2011 out of the money flown from the accounts of AT Group and later, transferred the said plot to Asok Mohanty." You may read the relevant paragraphs of the CBI chargesheet here: http://tinyurl.com/CBI-chargesheet-Artha-Tatwa
- The CBI chargesheet says: "Investigation disclosed that accused Asok Mohanty was the Advocate General of Odisha during the period from June, 2009 to September, 2014. He had purchased a building located at plot No. 11-3B/1332, Category-B, measuring 4000 sqft in sector -11, Bidanashi, Cuttack from the accused Pradeep Kumar Sethy. As per records, accused P.K. Sethy had purchased said building from Justice L.K. Mohapatra for consideration of Rs. 1,00,00,000/- during April, 2011 out of the money flown from the accounts of AT Group and later, transferred the said plot to Asok Mohanty. Though the sale transaction was shown to be of Rs 1,01,00,000/- but in fact an amount of Rs. 70,00,000/- only has been paid by accused Asok Mohanty to accused P.K. Sethy. During the course of investigation two money receipts were seized from the official premises of accused Asok Mohanty indicating the payment of Rs. 1,01,00,000/- towards consideration. The said money receipts bear forged signatures of accused Pradeep Kumar Sethy. During the relevant period of time i.e. during October, 2012, when the above transaction took place, agitations were going on in Odisha against the accused Pradeep Kumar Sethy and against AT Group by the depositors which is evident by registration of the 1st FIR against the AT Group on 06.10.2013 following which the accused P.K.Sethy had moved an anticipatory bail petitions before the Hon'ble high Court on 09.10.2012 and during the relevant time the present accused AG entered into a criminal conspiracy with the said Pradeep Kumar Sethy and in furtherance thereof extended his hospitality towards the accused P.K.Sethy as a result of which the anticipatory bail was granted to the accused P.K.Sethy on 18.09.2012. During the course of investigation, two separate agreements for sale of the said plots were recovered/seized from the possession of accused Asok Mohanty. In the said two agreements, the consideration agreed upon was Rs One Crore and One Lakh which is contrary to the consideration mentioned in the affidavit dt. 03.10.2012 submitted to the Cuttack Development Authority for transfer of ownership of the said property. It may be mentioned here that in the said affidavit dt. 03.10.2012, the consideration amount is mentioned as Rs. One Crore and One Thousand. Thus, it is clear that the accused Asok Mohanty misappropriated the remaining amount of Rs. 31 lakhs that he was supposed to pay to the accused Pradeep Kumar Sethy."
- Significantly, CBI was able to investigate the role of Advocate General Asok Mohanty... but do they have the authority or the mandate to investigate the role played by Justice LK Mohapatra? No. And therefore, one is left wondering whether Justice Mohapatra's role was as innocuous as the CBI chargesheet makes it out to be!
- Final outcome:
- Lakhs of citizens of Odisha – swindled. Money not yet recovered
- Chit fund swindler Pradeep Sethy – arrested & chargesheeted by CBI.
- Advocate General Asok Mohanty – ditto… and he lost his job.
- Odisha High Court Judge Laxmi Kanta Mohapatra – got to keep Rs 90 lakhs that came from the savings of chit fund investors… and he was elevated to the position of Chief Justice of Manipur after the scandal.
Will somebody please rap the Supreme Court collegium on the knuckles for this decision, and impeach this honourable Chief Justice of Manipur? If this is not done, one worries that before his scheduled retirement on 10th June 2016 upon attaining the age of 62, the SC collegium (or Judicial Appointments Commission) may elevate him to the exalted status of a Supreme Court Judge, or even, who knows? Chief Justice of India? You can never tell.
FOR MORE INFORMATION & DOCUMENTS, CONTACT RTI Activist Jayanta Kumar Das on <firstname.lastname@example.org> and 9861770749.
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