Retired judge of Afzal Guru hanging and Vadra probe fame under the scanner for allegedly misusing his position as court-appointed observer of pvt firm. Have done no wrong, says Dhingra.
New Delhi: Retired Justice S.N. Dhingra, who probed Robert Vadra’s controversial land deals in Gurgaon, is himself in serious trouble now, facing higher judicial scrutiny for “overstepping” and possibly misusing for personal gain his mandate as a court-appointed observer in a family business dispute.
The charges against Dhingra – who first made headlines as the lower court judge who awarded the death sentence to Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru – include awarding contracts to his daughter’s firm from the very company he was monitoring following a Delhi High Court mandate.
The company under his watch allegedly paid a total amount of Rs 15.54 lakh to his daughter’s firm. The retired judge himself was getting paid Rs 5 lakh per month for monitoring the affairs of the company.
He has since resigned from the observer’s job, claiming that he was “unhappy how the proceedings were going on”.
This, along with several other complaints – including allegedly cadging expensive trips for himself and his wife – was brought before a Delhi High Court division bench by a senior employee of the company Dhingra was supervising.
The employee approached the court after Dhingra had sacked him, allegedly because he questioned payments to Cinnamon Trails LLP – the company in which the retired judge’s daughter, Bharti Dhingra, is a partner.
Curiously, the retired judge had promoted the same senior employee just a month earlier for his good performance. The Delhi HC has held in abeyance Dhingra’s orders sacking the senior employee while still inquiring into the matter.
Speaking to ThePrint, Justice Dhingra accepted that the company under his watch had made payments to his daughter’s firm. But it was done on the advice of the same senior employee who had complained to the court.
The retired judge also justified his travels on the company’s account and gave reasons for taking his wife along.
Promotion and then termination
On 6 April, 2016, Dhingra took over as the court-appointed observer of The Printers House Ltd. (TPH), a Delhi-based company which manufactures printing machines. He was the second observer after retired Justice R.V. Easwar, who was appointed in August 2015, quit in less than a year.
The court had to appoint an observer to ensure the company functioned in maintenance mode until a settlement could be reached in a murky family dispute for spoils of the business.
The dispute had erupted after the owner of The Printers House, Mon Mohan Kohli, slipped into a coma in 2006 following a brain-stroke. The case has since been heard 90 times.
The aggrieved senior employee who complained about Dhingra to the Delhi HC, Jagdeep Singh, is a vice-president. He has alleged that he was wrongly removed by Dhingra within a month of his promotion as vice-president because he raised concerns of alleged impropriety and conflict of interest.
The Delhi High Court order by Justice Yogesh Khanna on 25 August, which froze all key decisions by Dhingra as observer, including Singh’s termination, has taken note of the fact that on 20 June the observer had issued a letter to “promote and re-designate” Singh as vice-president for his performance in the previous year.
However, the court noted that within a month Dhingra issued a second order on 13 July terminating Singh’s services.
Singh then wrote to Dhingra alleging that he was being removed because he raised a red flag over the payments to Cinnamon Trails, a company in which Dhingra’s daughter is a partner.
According to Registrar of Companies records, Cinnamon Trails, a limited liability partnership, was registered on 17 January, 2017, just months before The Printer’s House made payments to it – and less than 10 months after Dhingra took over as the court-appointed observer of TPH.
Cinnamon Trails has only two listed partners – Bharti Dhingra and a man named Rohan Bisht. It has a paid-up capital of Rs 2 lakhs and is registered at an address in the upscale Greater Kailash area of New Delhi.
The Delhi HC order has recorded this allegation contained in Singh’s letter to Dhingra.
“It is quite pertinent that the purported termination letters have been issued out of vengeance in as much as upon learning about some funds of TPH to the tune of Rs 8,88,000 and Rs 6,66,000 have been transferred to Cinnamon Trails LLP, an entity in which your daughter Bharti Dhingra is a designated partner. I had merely very politely inquired from you if such payments would be inappropriate considering that you are a court observer,” Singh wrote.
The letter also claims that Singh had raised similar concerns over the travel and 5-star hotel stay requests from Justice Dhingra on his own behalf and for his family to destinations in India and some overseas too.
Based on this, the court order stated: “In view of overall circumstances, it would be appropriate that the termination letters (of Singh) and appointment of employees be kept in abeyance till further orders, since the court observer has sought time to bring facts on record.”
No wrongdoing, says Dhingra
Reached by ThePrint for his response to the questions raised over his role at The Printers House, Dhingra said that he had only mentioned his daughter was in the same business, it was Singh, his accuser now, who pursued it.
“There is an annual exhibition for printers and TPH was looking for someone to do their marketing and advertising for their stall. I mentioned that my daughter works in the same field. It was Jagdeep (Singh) who pursued it, got a quotation from Cinnamon Trails LLP. I even said that we should not pay more than previous years.”
Dhingra said that Singh was the one who set up the arrangement and was now “using this to make allegations against me”.
“This was not a government company to invite tender and get three quotes before deciding,” the retired judge said.
Dhingra also said he took up the job at the insistence of the judge hearing the case and only after an assurance of a good remuneration along with powers to operate the company.
“Justice Vipin Sanghi called me and asked if I would take over from Justice Easwar,” Dhingra said, referring to the Delhi HC judge who appointed him as observer.
“He might have felt that Easwar was not able to deliver and I will perhaps get it done. You see, I have a reputation in court as a tough judge. When he called me, I said I will give my time only if the remuneration is good and if I have powers to run the company.”
As for sacking Singh, Dhingra claimed that Singh had allegedly misled him and got him to remove the controller of plant operations at TPH.
“I realised only later that this was staged by Jagdeep. Initially, status reports were sent to the court every month and once the business had settled, the court was given reports every alternate month. I resigned after he made allegations against me,” he said.
On the allegations of making foreign trips at TPH expense, Dhingra said: “The court gave me powers to make investments in mutual funds. I had gone to Hyderabad and Myanmar with my wife for getting business for the company, not on excursions.
“In old age, you must take care of each other, so I said I will not travel without her. But I have never traveled to Sri Lanka and Bangkok as alleged.”
The former judge said he chose to resign instead of refuting the allegations.
“I did not offer to refute the (employee’s) allegations because it is difficult to ask a judge that. I was not in court but I was unhappy with how the proceedings were going on. In hindsight, the company used my name to get (business) orders,” Dhingra said.