The court also appointed another lawyer as an assistant as the petitioner in the case was deserted by his lawyers and struggled to find replacements.
In a major development in the Priyanka Gandhi Vadra land deal case, the petitioner, Dev Ashish Bhattacharya, will now be represented by senior advocate R.K. Bawa, who will be assisted by an advocate named Jivan. The chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court stepped in and appointed Bawa, the former advocate general when P.K. Dhumal’s BJP government was in power, as the amicus curiae after Bhattarcharya’s originals advocates quit the case citing personal reasons.
The Wire reported in December 2016 that the petitioner had sent a letter to the state chief justice voicing concerns about how the case is being handled, allegations of the presiding judge having a conflict of interest, his lawyers’ refusal to fight on his behalf and the need to move proceedings to New Delhi in view of the prevailing situation.
The RTI activist, who had been fighting the legal battle on his own, claimed that he was now facing adversity on multiple fronts. “The sudden withdrawal of my counsels from the case on [the grounds of] “personal reasons” and the reluctance of other advocates to take up this case has rendered me defenceless in front of the petitioner, who is represented by a battery of senior lawyers,” he wrote.
Bhattacharya said that after his lawyers left him and others refused to represent him, he apprised the chief justice of the situation and requested him to appoint an amicus curiae for the proper adjudication of the case.
“In the meantime, a Delhi-based advocate Dinesh Rattan Bhardwaj extended his help to me and appeared on my behalf in the high court on December 22, 2016, the last date of hearing of the case. By that time I had not heard anything from the chief justice,” Bhattacharya said.
He said it was after he filed an RTI application to know the status of his petition on December 27 that he received a reply from the public information officer, vide a letter dated January 24, that the chief justice has appointed an amicus curiae and another lawyer to assist him.
Apart from fighting a legal case against Gandhi – in which he has alleged that a plot of land in Chharabra, 13 kms from Shimla, was wrongfully allotted to Gandhi – Bhattacharya has also repeatedly raised several issues regarding the manner in which the case has been fought in court.
At one point of time last year, he even urged the state’s high court to send a reference to the Supreme Court to transfer the case out of Himachal Pradesh. Citing the fact that Gandhi is based in Delhi, he said, she “should not have any objection if the case is transferred to Delhi high court”.
Additionally, he said that Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan, who was the presiding judge in the case, was compromised due to a “conflict of interest” as Chauhan’s wife had contested the election for Shimla Municipal Corporation in 2012 on a Congress ticket. Following which, Bhattacharya requested that the case be transferred to Delhi to be tried by another judge.
Prior to that, in July 2016, Bhattacharya had cried foul about how a court order pertaining to the case had been announced by the public relations officer even before it had been formally pronounced.
A year before that, in July 2015, the state high court had stayed the state information commission order directing Shimla’s deputy commissioner to disclose information about Gandhi’s land. She purchased over 4.25 bighas of land between 2007 and 2013 in relaxation of section 118 of Tenancy and Land Reforms Act that bars any non-agriculturist from purchasing land without the permission of the government.
The matter has been pending in the high court, which last heard it on December 22.