The Allahabad High Court on November 3, 2018, in the case of Rajendra Kant Agnihotri v. State Of U.P. Thru Revenue Secy. & Ors
. has rapped a lawyer, Ranjana Agnihotri, who, it said, was making orchestrated attempts at maligning the judges of the Bench hearing her matter.
The lawyer had played an audio clip of a conversation on her mobile phone during the hearing of a case filed by her father and being handled by her. The clip contained allegations that one of the judges on the Bench, Justice Vikram Nath
, had been compromised. However, the Bench of Justice Nath and Justice Rajesh Singh Chauhan
observed that “This is a glaring case where an unscrupulous litigant who is also an Advocate has tried all efforts to ensure that the matter may not be heard by a Bench which had expressed its reservations about the maintainability of the petition, so that the matter may be carried to some other Court, where the party may have a chance to get some favourable orders or to continue Bench hunting, till such time a favourable one is found. The petitioners are enjoying the interim order for the last more than ten years. Their entire attempt is to somehow keep the case pending, by hook or by crook.”
The Bench noting that Ms. Agnihotri is a lawyer and part of the judicial system with a standing of 22 years, said that “Still she did not realize the effect and aftermath of her conduct by making an orchestrated attempt of maligning the Judges of the Bench. She has a standing of 22 years but still, she had the courage and audacity to try all efforts to, somehow or the other, get the matter released from this Bench which had expressed an adverse opinion in the matter.” The court, in fact, opined that this was a fit case for lodging a criminal case or initiating criminal contempt proceedings against the erring lawyer-litigant. It, however, refrained from doing so, on account of intervention of senior lawyers, including the Chairman, Elders’ Committee, Oudh Bar Association. Nevertheless, it directed the Registry to send a copy of the order to (i) the President, Oudh Bar Association for appropriate action; (ii) the Chairman of the U.P. Bar Council for taking appropriate action; and (iii) the Registrar General at Allahabad and Senior Registrar at Lucknow for placing the order before the Committee dealing with the Advocates on Roll, for appropriate action. The dispute relates to a land situated within the municipal limits of Lucknow and recorded in the name of the petitioner Rajendra Kant Agnihotri, Ms. Agnihotri’s father. The then Tehsildar Rajesh Kumar Shukla had initiated an enquiry regarding the genuineness of the record entries, as he had received complaints that the land belonged to the Gram Sabha and that Mr. Agnihotri had fraudulently gotten it recorded in his name. The inquiry report submitted by Mr. Shukla confirmed such suspicions. A writ petition was then filed by Mr. Agnihotri before the Lucknow Bench of the court, demanding quashing of this report as well as the notice issued to him pursuant to the report. When the matter came up for hearing, Ms. Agnihotri informed the court that she was in possession of an audio clipping of a conversation on her mobile phone which according to her had serious connection with the hearing of the matter by the Bench. The Court allowed Ms. Agnihotri to play the said clip from her mobile phone. The audio clip was played in the presence of 25 to 30 lawyers and the court staff. The recording was a conversation between Ms. Agnihotri and another lawyer, Mr. Rahul Srivastava, who was informing her of an overheard conversation between Mr. Shukla and another lawyer, Mr. Digvijay Nath Dubey. In the recording, Mr. Srivastava was heard saying that Mr. Shukla claimed to have already won over Justice Nath. Taking note of this recording, the court directed Ms. Agnihotri to provide a transcript of the conversation, and the audio-clip on a pen-drive, along with an application, so that appropriate orders could be passed for a CBI inquiry into the matter. Ms. Agnihotri, however, then prayed that CBI inquiry may not be ordered, but demanded that the matter be not heard by the same Bench. After reaching the Chamber, the court felt that instead of waiting till the next day, the mobile phone carrying the conversation may be taken into custody by the Senior Registrar or the security in-charge of the Lucknow Bench. Accordingly, the court called for Ms. Agnihotri, along with Senior Advocates and the Chairman and Members of the Elders Committee, which was in charge of the Oudh Bar Association. In the meantime, several other judges also arrived and were all informed about the developments in the case. Thereafter, Ms. Agnihotri was called in the Chamber and was asked to play the audio clip from her mobile phone. At first, she said that she had left the phone in the waiting room and then, later on, said that she had deleted the conversation. However, when the mobile phone was checked by one of the Hon’ble Judges it was discovered that the conversation with Mr. Rahul Srivastava, Advocate was not available but she was caught recording the conversation going on in the chambers at that time. The Bench recording its displeasure, concern and discontentment with regard to the conduct of Ms. Agnihotri, said that “Her very conduct of deleting the conversation (audio clip), telling lies after lies, itself shows that the entire conversation had been concocted and was only an attempt to get the matter released from this Bench.” Further, the Bench recorded the entire episode feeling that it should come on record, so that neither Ms. Agnihotri nor any other lawyer, who are part of the system, try to play truant and mischief with the system, bringing it a bad name and an attempt to lower the majesty of the Court by falsely maligning the Judges. Lastly, the Bench was faced with the dilemma between choosing to hear the matter and releasing it. “We are in a fix. If we release the matter, the petitioner succeeds in her game and that too at the cost of maligning Members of the Bench. If we proceed to hear the matter and decide it either way, the decision would be called biased, impacted by the incident,” it observed. The Bench, however, decided to release the matter, but not without requesting the Chief Justice to consider the transfer of all applications to Allahabad High Court for disposal.