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The new breed of serial writ petitioners: Profiling Deepak Khosla, man with many missions

“If it were utopia, the moment I go to court the judge would stand up and say to me: ‘Mr. Khosla despite our best efforts at devising laws whose objective would be to prevent people breaking the law, it seems in your case we have failed. So on behalf of society I owe you an apology and I apologise. Now please tell me what your problem is and how can I help you?’ That’s how a hearing should start,” 53-year-old law student Deepak Khosla tells me.

His voice has the air of someone used to having the last word on a subject.

Khosla has just come home from his final law exam and, after he cleared sheaves of papers off sofas, we sit in his living room. The papers relate to court cases, many years old. After the semi-retired businessman’s tryst with law school, he has started arguing them himself.

Ever since our meeting at his home three months ago he has frequently and, I suspect, somewhat smugly kept me updated of various courtroom arguments that have lasted “hours”.

And this man has no dearth of tales. In the last six months he has gone from arguing that a judge who violates the oath of office may be declared “an imposter or a charlatan” and be made liable for sedition, to seeking a hike in high court judges’ monthly salaries to Rs 21 lakhs. And then he sued judges for a crore Rupees in compensation for “framing him in baseless criminal proceedings”.

As part of his tally of around 110 personal court cases, he also accused a national newspaper of “paid news” and complained to the Press Council of India (PCI) for not covering his accusations of an alleged offender having been sworn in as a judge of the high court, and he lodged a writ for the protection of journalistic sources. And nearly two years ago he was sent for mental health evaluation for a half-day by a Delhi high court (DHC) judge, whom he filmed with a mobile phone during proceedings (another hobby horse of his is a fight to allow court recording).

For the past two-and-a-half years Khosla has been a bit of a DHC fixture, making conversation around its corridors with quite a few senior advocates. Yet, when I asked some of the high court’s practising advocates more about him, some shuddered with a “no comment”, one anticipating that he “won’t hear the end of it”, joking that Khosla would “file 20 more petitions to find out who commented”.

An anonymous commenter on Legally India, purporting to be a DHC lawyer, recently accused Khosla of “antics”, of which “DHC judges have been at the receiving end for a long time now”.

Pat came Khosla’s reply in the comments: “Suppose your client wants to sue ‘for being at the receiving end of a Judge for a long time now’: what advice would you give him, O Learned One?”

The receiving end

For Khosla life as mostly the owner of a marble mining company ceased at the age of 44 when a series of events led to him purchasing his first ever law books – the Indian Penal Code and the Constitution of India.

His chronology includes a Bollywood-style saga of his “zero-bribing company” whom corrupt officers wanted to frame in order to terrorise others to “pay up”, which led to his getting embroiled in avoidable legal battles. Later, a business associate used forged documents to take over the company, and personal tragedy hit shortly afterwards.

“My wife passed away five months ago. She had cancer,” Khosla says in a lowered tone, and pauses. “Cancer has been proven to be the consequence also of stress. My question is the following: she is from a lawyer's family, her father is a lawyer, her grandfather [the late Gulshan Rai] is a barrister. So, she comes from that kind of a mindset. Did [our legal troubles] freak her out? Is that what has contributed to the stress in her life? I don’t know.”

In 2007 Khosla says he ended up spending Rs 38 lakhs on the fees and other expenses of his team of “star” DHC lawyers. But after five months of litigation he was nowhere close to the result he wanted. In 2004 he says he had consulted one of the biggest Indian tax law firms on an excise matter but when faced with a difficult argument before a settlement commission, the firm ceased acting for him.

Deciding to take his fate into his own hands, he fired the DHC stars and partly began arguing for himself. Three years ago he enrolled himself in the BALLB programme of Lloyd’s Law College in Greater Noida, and successfully finished it this May. He has now transitioned to handling all his litigation himself, and soon intends to practice full time as an advocate.

My conversation with Khosla is interrupted by his family joining us briefly. As one of his three adolescent sons offers us some chocolates, Khosla’s father tells me softly, as an aside: “He is going to make a great advocate someday, because you know, he is very thorough.”

Khosla’s belief in thorough advocacy was increased by other blows of the system: a single judge who had overturned another’s order, giving Khosla’s opponent the same relief that Khosla had lost out on two months earlier. One opposing counsel allegedly practised unethically in Khosla’s own protracted personal litigation, and then went on to become a judge - Khosla believes that certain judges only continue in office because the media is too busy covering the “sleazy garbage [of] a flyover falling in Mayapuri or the rape of an 82-year-old woman”, instead of his allegations in the controversies involved.

Ironically, these set backs only threw him into a frenzy to clean the system in general.

Disinfectant writs

Armed with his Rs 4 lakh law library, built up over the years, he has several “general interest matters” currently pending in the DHC, including:

  • a writ to increase high court judges’ salaries to Rs 21 lakhs per month, allocating them Rs 25 crore retirement bonuses, while decreasing their vacation time;
  • a writ challenging a recently elevated senior counsel’s judgeship, and challenging the Delhi HC’s right to information (RTI) exemption against disclosing the specific criteria for his elevation;
  • a writ asking for a rule that the order of a HC bench be binding on all other similarly-sized benches of the same HC;
  • a writ on redefining “paid news” (to also include a conscious and deliberate omission to “discharge the social duty” to report on matters of public interest) and the protection of journalists’ sources; and
  • a writ challenging The Judges Protection Act 1985 on its requirement to show the consent of 50-100 members of parliament in order to remove a judge

There was also the May writ asking for a ban on full court references in the Delhi high court, which was disallowed by former DHC chief justice D Murugesan just before he retired.

“I am going to get law after law, after law, after law made,” vows Khosla, “because I have understood now how law gets made. Don't attack primary legislation. Go at the subordinate legislation, rules. Rules don’t require parliament. Rules require central government. Frame the rule, table it before the parliament for 30 days, that’s it. On the 31st day its law.”

Khosla: Unwinding
Khosla: Unwinding
Aam Aadmi and 3.5cm margins

Khosla says his filing rate is pretty much equivalent to that of a medium-sized law firm and that his “people are there in court filing every other day”, with 30-35 matters dealt with each month. But he argues on his own.

Now most junior lawyers are familiar with the drill of running around courts when trying to get matters listed, getting to know courts and staff, and getting familiar with the fine toothcomb required to rid case files of defects. How does Khosla, fresh to the courts at age 53, manage?

Khosla notes his frustration with the course of a hearing in the Indian courtroom. “You know how a hearing starts?” he says, in what I found a hilariously accurate, throaty-voiced imitation of an imagined judge chastising a lawyer for his typography. “Stop Mr counsel, wait wait! Don’t tell me about your matter, first show me your margin, I don’t think your margin should be more than 3.5 centimetres. You know the law Mr counsel, I don't think I have to tell you. How many years are you practicing Mr counsel? Don’t you know 4 centimetres is the margin?”

Khosla breaks into laughter for a few seconds, eyes rolling.

So how many times has Khosla been turned away because of defects in his files, in his four-year young career of arguing for himself?

“Never! Never! Madame, I will file a 10 volume petition at 11:58am and it'll be listed the next day. I think only once [defects were pointed out] and that was in the early days.”

Is he brilliant at procedure now? “No one bothers with me. If a defect is of double space I could very well ask: ‘my Lord did you, Sir, read the paper this morning that came to your house? Was it single space? Did you tell the newspaper editor to send the paper back?’ It took me a couple of months to understand the system, but once I did […] some of my petitions are put with defects but when they come up not a single defect is discussed. They straightaway get on with the meat of the matter.”

Khosla recounts with mirth how senior counsel have asked for his advice on “how [to get] criminal contempt [petitions] listed”. Procedure requires the consent of a standing counsel for the listing of contempt petitions, and he says that standing counsel usually decline consent. But an application of “judicial determination” made to the judge and followed up by a trail of emails to the chief justice did the trick for Khosla.

“Once there is an application for judicial determination, how will the registrar not list? You could allege criminal contempt against him! Read with section 41(d) of the Specific Reliefs Act! So these guys would fold their hands and say: ‘alright we'll list your petition’. That’s how it went,” he narrates, laughing heartily.

Rumblings of utopia

Legally India and other publications regularly receive a slew of emails from various senders. Usually these are copied in to anywhere from a dozen to 274 recipients, including India’s prime minister, president, chief justice, press council chairman and every other TV news anchor, with such subject lines as: “Can a citizen arrest a judge”; “GOOD KARMA”; “History is made today”; “Faint? No revolution over electricity bills”; ‘Harbinger of Change”; and even “Angelina Jolie’s Breasts”.

They are sent by what is seemingly a growing breed of litigants in India and Khosla is only one among our many serial mailers.

However, something about this particular letter writer stood out: while his rants seemed blindly optimistic at times, they were also informed and articulate and showcased a genuine passion for the law.

And often exhibited a sense of humour too. Sample excerpts from his email to Murugesan sent on the day of the full-court reference held in honour of the late Justice JS Verma:

“[...] the (mal)practice of prematurely shutting down the Courts to mourn the demise of a dignitary, is a (mal)practice already frowned upon formally in terms of a Resolution unanimously passed in the Chief Justices’ conference held at Delhi on [...].

If nothing else, it brings bad karma to the dear departed soul of the exalted dignitary, this being by the ill-feelings of around 558 persons who shall literally curse the fact that their matter was listed on the day of a Full-Court reference held in the memory of honourable Mr. So-andso.

Apart from bringing bad karma, it also causes a revenue loss of Rs 3-4 crores to the State Exchequer, not to mention increases the pendency rate by 0.33% for each day of Full-Court reference. The calculations that support these conclusions are set on adequately elaborate detail in the writ petition.”

It is clear that Khosla is driven, eccentric and intelligent in similar measure. However, despite my many interactions with him, he remains a hard one to pin down.

“I if I cash out everything, sell my business, my home, etc. I can lay my hands on 60 to 70 crore [Rupees],” Khosla muses, as I sit across from him. “With 60 to 70 crore I can go live in any country of the world legally and be welcomed like a true lord. Like a true lord! I can have my own chauffeur, a cook, my own vineyard, a plane.”

“So, why? What am I doing in this bloody country?” he asks.

To be honest, I still can’t quite tell.

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