New Delhi: The Jagan Mohan Reddy-led Andhra Pradesh government’s unprecedented press conference Saturday, levelling charges of corruption and bias against sitting Supreme Court judge, Justice N.V. Ramana, and other high court judges, was a ‘deliberate attempt’ to scandalise the judiciary, say legal experts.
According to the experts, the Andhra CM’s actions amount to contempt, in the wake of the apex court verdict in the Prashant Bhushan case, in which the SC convicted the lawyer-cum-activist for contempt of court last month.
They argued that Reddy should have waited for the Chief Justice of India (CJI)’s response to his letter — sent on 6 October leveling the charges — rather than making the contents of the letter public, since he had invoked the CJI’s jurisdiction as the administrative head.
The experts further questioned the timing of the allegations.
According to them, the charges have come as Justice Ramana is heading the bench hearing a PIL to fast-track criminal cases pending against former and current lawmakers, which includes Reddy, who is facing 31 cases, of which 11 are under the lens of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
The unprecedented events played out late Saturday evening when Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Principal Advisor Ajeya Kallam held a hurried press conference, revealing the letter the CM wrote to CJI S.A. Bobde.
In the letter, Reddy highlighted the alleged proximity between Justice Ramana and former Andhra CM and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, claiming that attempts are being made to destabilise his government.
“Justice Ramana’s proximity to Chandrababu Naidu is too well-known. I am making this statement with utmost responsibility… Justice Ramana has been influencing the sittings of the High Court including the roster of a few Hon’ble judges and instances of a few matters important to Telugu Desam have been allotted to a few judges,” Reddy wrote.
Along with the letter, Reddy also enclosed seven documents as proof of his allegations. One of them said there was an “identity of views expressed by Naidu and Ramana about fitness of Advocates elevated as High Court judges”. According to Reddy, Justice Ramana also played a key role in influencing judicial appointments in state courts.
Naidu and others from his previous government are facing allegations from the Reddy government over amassing huge wealth by illegal transactions of purchase of land during his tenure. The state government had requested for a CBI inquiry into the same.
Reddy’s allegations against Justice Ramana come nearly a month after the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordered a gag on media reporting in the state government’s FIR into the alleged land scam, which named the judge’s kin and a former government official who worked under Naidu’s TDP regime.
In another order, the HC put on hold a report submitted by the government’s cabinet sub-committee on various acts of commission and omission of the previous Naidu government.
The letter was sent the same day as when Reddy met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital.
‘Indulging in bench-hunting’
According to Supreme Court advocate Balaji Srinivasan, the CM’s move is as an attempt to overreach “judicial proceedings”.
“The FIR is lodged when the petition is listed for passing directions to fast-track cases filed against MPs and MLAs. The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister himself is facing serious charges of corruption. Therefore, the motive is glittering like gold. Now, again when the case has reached a crucial phase, this letter is written and not surprisingly released in public domain, clearly to overreach judicial proceedings,” he said.
Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who is amicus curiae in the MPs/MLAs matter, said the press conference is an effort to make Justice Ramana recuse from the matter.
“This is a brazen attempt to terrorise the judiciary. When the top court is monitoring the constitution of special courts to hear cases involving MPs/MLAs, he comes up with this press conference. This is being done to undermine the institution,” Hansaria said.
Hansaria had submitted a report to the top court on 9 September on the status of pending cases against MPs/MLAs, pointing to tardy progress in over 4,000 such matters, despite SC orders to speed up the trial.
A Justice Ramana-led bench had expressed shock at the data and fixed 16 September to hear at length Hansaria’s suggestions to fast-track the decision-making process in the cases. The court then ordered all the high courts to take suo motu cognisance and monitor the progress of the cases.
A week later, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of Andhra Pradesh government filed a case in the alleged land scam, naming Justice Ramana’s kin. This led to the HC gag order.
For Ashwini Upadhyaya, the petitioner in the MPs/MLAs case, Reddy has resorted to pressure tactics to delay the decision in his own matters.
“It is unethical for him to write such a letter and then release it to the media. Now that Justice Ramana has put the system in place, he (Jagan) is indulging in bench-hunting because he wants the judge to stop hearing the case,” he said.
‘CJI is the appropriate authority to complain’
In releasing the contents of the letter to the CJI, the Andhra Pradesh government has also violated the Supreme Court verdict in Prashant Bhushan case.
“In a sub judice matter, releasing such statement to the press in advance is an act of impropriety and has the effect of interfering with the judicial process and the fair decision making and is clearly an attempt to coerce the decision of the Court by the influence of newspaper and media, which cannot be said to be conducive for the fair administration of justice and would further tantamount to undue interference in the independent judicial making process which is the very foundation of institution of administration of justice,” a bench led by Justice Arun Mishra (retired) had said in the case.
“Propriety demanded the Chief Minister should have waited for the CJI’s response and not jumped to make the allegations public. The CJI is the appropriate authority, the one who can order an in-house enquiry,” senior advocate Arvind Dattar told ThePrint.
“Blatant attack on judges of Andhra Pradesh High Court is unwarranted. If the government is aggrieved by judicial orders passed, legal remedies are available to it. That should have been resorted to. I hope senior advocates of the Supreme Court take note of this and reconsider their decision to appear for Andhra Pradesh government,” Srinivasan said.
According to Hansaria, the state government’s action was totally uncalled for, especially since it had already written to the CJI. “Once you repose trust in the head of the institution, you should wait for a response,” he said.