New Delhi: At 2:30pm Sunday, the Supertech twin towers in Noida Sector 93A came crashing down, after a nearly decade-long legal battle fought by the resident welfare association (RWA) of the complex.
The towers were demolished following a Supreme Court judgment passed in August last year, after the court found that the two towers violated building regulations and the requirement of mandatory distance between building blocks, affecting the rights of the apartment owners and their safety.
While the discussion around the judgment focusses on the efforts of the RWA and the court, it was advocate Gaurav Agarwal — the amicus curiae, or an impartial advisor to the court, in the case — who assisted the apex court every step of the way.
Agarwal was appointed the amicus in the twin tower case in September 2017, and since then he actively assisted the court, made recommendations, communicated the concerns of homebuyers, and helped in the negotiations with homebuyers over the rate of interest acceptable to them on their refund.
This isn’t the only case in which Agarwal has assisted the court. He has been helping the court as amicus pro bono in several matters for years now. One of the first such cases that brought him to the spotlight was when he assisted the court, along with senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, during the hearing of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack convict Amir Ajmal Kasab’s plea challenging his death sentence .
Since then, he has been appointed as the amicus in suo motu cases initiated by the Supreme Court, including the one regarding children who lost their parents due to Covid-19, and on prison reforms.
Supertech wasn’t the first construction-related case in which Agarwal helped the court as amicus. In January 2020, four apartment complexes in the Maradu municipality of Kerala’s Ernakulam district were demolished following Supreme Court orders that held their construction to be in violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms in the state. Agarwal had been appointed as the amicus curiae in November 2020, when a court-appointed committee was considering the matter of compensation to be paid to flat owners in the complexes.
Ajmal Kasab, Covid orphans
Agarwal has been assisting the court as an amicus curiae in several cases for years now.
Over a decade ago, in 2011, Agarwal assisted the Supreme Court, along with senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, in hearing Kasab’s plea challenging his death sentence. In August 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence, and directed the Maharashtra government to pay ₹ 11 Lakh to Ramachandran and ₹ 3.5 lakh to Agarwal, for their work amici.
However, both the lawyers filed an application in court, expressing their unwillingness to accept the money. The court had then, in October 2012, directed this money to be paid to the families of 18 policemen and other security personnel killed in the 26/11 attack.
Another such request for assistance came to Agarwal from the Supreme Court during the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in lakhs of people losing their lives, and left many children orphaned. The Supreme Court initiated a suo motu writ petition in April 2020, titled: “In Re: Children in need of care and protection due to loss of parents during Covid-19”.
In July that year, the court requested Agarwal to appear as amicus in the case. Since then, Agarwal has submitted several reports before the court, on issues including the education of children in childcare institutions, and identification, welfare and rehabilitation of children who lost one or both of their parents during the pandemic.
The Supreme Court has also since issued a slew of directions in the case, with Agarwal’s assistance. This includes directions to stop the illegal adoption of children whose parents died of Covid-19, or otherwise. The court also directed that state governments and Union territories should “ensure that there is no break in the education of children who have become orphans or lost either one parent during the pandemic”.
Prison reforms, road safety
Agarwal has also been assisting the Supreme Court since 2015 as an amicus in a suo motu petition initiated by the Supreme Court on a letter written to it by former Chief Justice of India R.C. Lahoti in 2013, highlighting the conditions of prisons in the country. Agarwal was appointed to assist the court in this case, titled “Re-Inhuman conditions in 1382 prisons” in September 2015.
In April 2016, he filed two detailed notes before the court — one on unnatural deaths in prison and another on overcrowding in jail. In the same order, the court directed the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee to pay him Rs.1 lakh for the assistance rendered by him so far. In September 2018, the court appointed a prison reforms committee comprising former Supreme Court judge Justice Amitava Roy as the chairman, along with the inspector general of police, Bureau of Police Research and Development, and the director general (prisons) Tihar Jail, as members.
In February 2020, the committee submitted a 300-page report, which included suggestions like a free phone call a day to family members of prisoners during their first week in jail, modern cooking facilities, canteens to buy essential items and trial through video-conferencing. The court had then asked Agarwal to study the report.
In March this year, Agarwal informed the court about the difficulties being faced by the committee in preparing a final report, after which the court granted the committee six more months.
Agarwal also assisted the court in a case that led to the Supreme Court laying down a set of guidelines to tackle rising road accidents in November 2017. The PIL in this case was filed in 2012 by Dr Rajaseekaran, chairman and head of orthopedic surgery at a Coimbatore-based private hospital. In response, the Supreme Court constituted a committee on road safety in April 2014, under the chairmanship of retired apex court judge Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan, and appointed Agarwal as the amicus.
This case has since led to the court directing several measures, including ordering states and UTs to frame a road safety policy, and the establishment of trauma care centres.
In January 2020, former Supreme Court judge Justice A.M. Sapre was appointed as the chairman of this committee, after Justice Radhakrishnan expressed difficulty in continuing in that position. However, Agarwal has continued to assist the court as amicus in the case.
The Supertech case
The Supertech case began in 2012, when the RWA filed a petition in the Allahabad high court, demanding demolition of the two towers. The high court had then ordered demolition in April 2014, when the towers were still under construction. The Supreme Court had ordered the status quo to be maintained in May 2014, after Supertech appealed against the high court judgment.
Agarwal was appointed as the amicus in the case in September 2017, by a bench comprising then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud. Up until this point, orders reveal that the court was being bombarded with impleadment applications by worried homebuyers who wanted to be made party to the case.
So, the court appointed Agarwal and directed him to ensure that home buyers could get a refund of the principal amount and interest, in accordance with court orders. He was also asked to coordinate with Supertech and the flat buyers on issues relating to refunds, through a portal.
In 2018, his help enabled the court to classify homebuyers into different categories based on the refund options chosen by them. This included those who wanted a refund of the principal amount along with 12 per cent simple interest per annum, those who insisted on getting interest at the rate of 14 per cent, and those who wanted bank EMIs to be paid by Supertech till they got possession (a few homeowners were hopeful that they might get possession and demolition might not happen).
Over the years, several homebuyers switched their demands too, and Agarwal was there to communicate those to the court and assist all the parties. The final judgment of the Supreme Court also appreciated his assistance, saying, “Mr Gaurav Agarwal, learned amicus curiae, has rendered comprehensive assistance to the court. Apart from urging his submissions in an objective and dispassionate manner, the amicus curiae has painstakingly compiled the pleadings, documents and statutory provisions to facilitate the convenience of arguing counsel and the court. We record our appreciation for the assistance which has been rendered by the amicus curiae.”
The judgment also contained a note prepared by Agarwal, segregating the applications which have been filed by homebuyers into five different categories based on amounts refunded to them or demanded by them, and suggesting reliefs to each category based on the outcome of the proceedings.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)