Supreme Court: While exercising its civil original jurisdiction, the full bench of Dr. Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, C.J.*, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Pamidighantam Sri Narasimha J.J., held that it cannot consider the plea of the Supreme Court Bar Association (‘SCBA’) on the judicial side, to convert the entire 1.33 acres of the land allotted to the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Urban Development for the space for lawyers’ chambers.

In the matter at hand, the petitioner had contended that the number of advocates practicing before the Supreme Court had increased manifold in recent years and the existing chamber blocks were insufficient to accommodate the growing needs of lawyers eligible for allotment.

An area admeasuring 12.19 acres in the erstwhile Appu Ghar Complex was allotted to the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Urban Development of which a small portion had been utilized for the construction of a new chamber block for. In the new chamber block for lawyers, 234 chambers have been constructed which are now allotted on a dual occupancy to accommodate 468 lawyers.

The petitioner asserted that out of a total area of 1.33 acres allotted to the Supreme Court by the Union Government near ITO for the construction of an archival block, only 0.50 acres had been earmarked for a chamber block for lawyers. According to the petitioner, only four to five hundred chambers can be constructed in the said area. Since the land admeasuring 1.33 acres is ‘the last piece of vacant land available near the Supreme Court, the petitioner submitted that it should be entirely utilized for constructing chamber blocks for lawyers.

According to the petitioner, the archives of the Supreme Court could be housed in the Additional Building Complex where some areas are lying vacant. The petitioner submitted that they have an equal right to utilize vacant spaces in lands allotted to the Supreme Court as its members are an integral part of the justice delivery system.

SCBA President Senior Advocate Vikas Singh sought a resolution that the demand raised in the petition should be on the judicial side, but on the other hand, Bar Council of India (‘BCI’) indicated that they would wish to have the issue addressed on the administrative side so that an appropriate view can be taken by this Court.

Heated exchange of dialogues had occurred in the past between the Chief Justice Chandrachud and SCBA President Senior Advocate Vikas Singh over the non-listing of the case despite it being mentioned on several occasions. He had stated that SCBA might be forced to resort to protesting if the matter was not heard urgently. The interaction had ended on a dramatic note with the Chief Justice Chandrachud asking the SCBA President to leave the Court.

Consequent to which, a large number of advocates urged the SCBA to move a resolution to express solidarity with the SCBA President on the issue and to reprimand Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal and Neeraj Kishan Kaul for apologising to Chief Justice Chandrachud for SCBA President’s outpour. However, the same was opposed by other section of advocates. Eventually the SCBA President announced the decision of the SCBA Executive Committee to call off the meeting which was scheduled to discuss the proposed resolutions.

The Court stated that it was fully cognizant of the needs of the lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court who were vital stakeholders in the administration of justice. “There is no gainsaying in the fact that the members of the Bar, together with the litigants, have an important role in the functioning of the judicial institution of the Supreme Court.

The Court categorically viewed that it would not be appropriate to entertain a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution seeking a direction that the entirety of the land should be allotted for the construction of a chamber block for lawyers.

The Court noted that on 27-08-2018, the Additional Registrar of the Supreme Court of India addressed a communication to the Honorary Secretary of the Supreme Court Bar Association (‘SCBA’) stating that 0.50 acres out of 1.3 acres of land should be earmarked for the construction of lawyers’ chambers subject to a change of land use by the concerned authority.

The Court did not agree with the perception of SCBA President Senior Advocate Vikas Singh that a direction for the change of land use had to be adjudicated only on the judicial side. It stated that the issues pertaining to the change of land use, were eminently suitable for being addressed on the administrative side.

The Bench was of the view that the SCBA could not assert a right to the entirety of the land admeasuring 1.33 acres, which had been allotted by the Union for housing the Supreme Court Archives, for converting it into a chamber block for lawyers.

“A holistic view has to be taken on the allocation of available resources by balancing the needs of stakeholders both for the present and the future. These are matters which cannot be resolved by the application of judicial standards and have to be taken up on the administrative side of the Supreme Court. Administrative functioning and decision-making, which the current issue requires, cannot be moved to the judicial side.”

The Court also dismissed other prayers sought by the petitioner pertaining to conversion of the entire area around Supreme Court as a Supreme Court Block so that all buildings across the Supreme Court on Bhagwan Das Road could be utilized for conversion to lawyers’ chambers and allotment of a government bungalow presently occupied by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

With the said observation, the Court dismissed the petition leaving it open for the Supreme Court of India on its administrative side to take appropriate decisions, bearing in mind the needs of the institution for the present and the future and the interest of all stakeholders. The process of decision making would also involve consultation with the SCAORA, SCBA and BCI.

[Supreme Court Bar Association v Ministry of Urban Development, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 322, decided on 23-03-2023]

Judgement authored by Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, CJ

Know Thy Judge| Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the petitioner- Senior Advocate Vikas Singh, Senior Advocate Pradeep Kumar Rai, Senior Advocate Rachna Srivastava, Senior Advocate Sonia Mathur, Senior Advocate Brijender Chahar, Senior Advocate. Dinesh Kumar Goswami, Senior Advocate Vikas Pahwa, Senior Advocate Ranji Thomas, Advocate Rohit Pandey, Advocate on Record Yugandhara Pawar Jha, Advocate Reepak Kansal, Advocate Seema Patnaha, Advocate Kumar Gaurav, Advocate Mukesh Kumar Singh, Advocate Vikas Gupta, Advocate Anjali Chauhan, Advocate Upendra Mishra, Advocate Nandini Gupta, Advocate Satbir Singh Pillania, Advocate Sangeeta Singh, Advocate on Record Pravir Choudhary, Advocate Reepak Kansal;

For the respondent- Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora, Advocate on Record Devvrat, Advocate Manoj K. Mishra, Advocate Snehasish Mukherjee, Advocate Rashmi Malhotra, Advocate Puneet Singh Bindra, Advocate Sachin Sharma, Advocate Abhinav Ramkrishna, Advocate Vishal Prasad, Advocate Meenakshi Chauhan, Advocate Divya Jyoti Singh, Advocate Aakarshan Aditya, Advocate Anzu K Varkey, Senior Advocate Manan Kumar Mishra, Senior Advocate S Prabhakaran, Senior Advocate Apurba Sharma, Advocate Debi Prasad Dhal, Advocate on Record Radhika Gautam, Advocate Anjul Diwedi, Advocate Sai Girdhar, Advocate Vishwajeet Mishra, Advocate Ramshankar, Advocate on Record Amrish Kumar, Advocate on Record Nidhi Khanna.

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