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Why Andhra HC quashed anti-corruption case against former top law officer, CJI’s daughters

Anti-Corruption Bureau FIR named former Andhra advocate general Dammalapati Srinivas. Bureau was investigating abuse of office to gain profits in land sale in Amaravati.

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Hyderabad: The Andhra Pradesh High Court has quashed a corruption case against a former state advocate general, citing lack of evidence and “vested interests” targeting him.

The FIR on which the case – an alleged land scam linked to the Amaravati capital city project – was based named former AG Dammalapati Srinivas as well as the daughters of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana.

A single-judge bench of Justice Ch Manavendranath Roy said the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) case, which was quashed last week, appeared to be a “blind shot fired in the dark without even knowing whether there is a prey at all”.

He further ruled that there was no evidence to show the former state law officer had misused his office at the time in question to derive a pecuniary advantage for himself or his family members.

The state ACB had in September 2020 registered the FIR on a complaint by K. Srinivasa Swamy Reddy, an advocate from Ongole, according to court documents, who alleged that Srinivas and the others were involved in an illegal purchase of land in the Amaravati area.

The Amaravati project refers to the proposed state capital that was a pet project of the previous chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who aimed to build a smart city on par with Singapore.

Reddy claimed Srinivas, who was the AG during Naidu’s government, used his position to obtain information about the Amaravati plan before any public announcement. Srinivas then allegedly purchased vast lands in the core region at throwaway prices through his relatives or “benamis”, thereby amassing wealth. Most of those named in the FIR are either Srinivas’s relatives or acquaintances.

Srinivas had then filed a petition seeking a media gag on the case, following which the high court stayed the investigation that September itself and also restrained the media from reporting on it.

However, the Supreme Court stayed the gag order after the incumbent Jagan Reddy government challenged it. In July this year, the state withdrew this appeal and pursued the matter in the Andhra high court.

Granting Srinivas the liberty to claim compensation from the complainant for intimidation and harassment, the court said the former advocate general cannot be prosecuted for a criminal offence based on “mere surmises or conjectures and on suspicion by taking a hypothetical view”.

On whether he would be seeking compensation, Srinivas told ThePrint nothing could be said right now.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, who defended the former AG, contended the case was filed with political motives. However, the current AG, S. Sriram pleaded with the court to allow the ACB to complete its enquiry.


Also read: Andhra Pradesh HC’s media gag sign of a new culture where judges pass a firman


Complainant a stranger to the transaction

In its 63-page judgment, Justice Roy referred to Reddy as a “total stranger” to the sale transaction while reading his observations on the complainant’s locus standi.

He further noted that the police complaint was filed almost five years after the alleged land transactions took place.

He also went on to point out lacunae in the police probe, noting how the “cryptic” preliminary enquiry report did not indicate whether the land owners came forward to complain about whether they were cheated or misled by false representation.

“When the sellers have absolutely no grievance that they have been cheated by the petitioners in respect of the lands that were sold to them, it is really surprising to note as to how the de facto complainant, who is totally a stranger to the said sale transactions and has absolutely no interest in the said lands, would come forward and lodge a report with the police alleging that the petitioners (Reddy) have cheated the owners of the lands,” stated the order.

The ACB had registered an FIR based on a preliminary enquiry report by the unit’s deputy superintendent of police, who concluded that a cognizable offence had occurred. However, the high court said the officer’s view was beyond its comprehension considering that the sellers didn’t file any complaint.


Also read: Jagan vs judiciary — a face-off which involves 100 high court orders & now a SC judge


Amaravati information not confidential

On perusal of the preliminary enquiry report, the court said the complainant lodged the FIR to prosecute the petitioners at the behest of “some vested interests behind the curtain”, and the “obscure reasons” for why he did so are best known to him.

As for information related to Amaravati, which is located between Krishna and Guntur districts, the court declared there was nothing confidential about it.

This information was available in the public domain and the former AG, as a government official, was not involved in any decision-making process.

The preliminary inquiry report also noted that between June and December 2014, the public had speculated about the location of the new capital.

Further, Justice Roy pointed out that Naidu, immediately after being sworn in as chief minister in June 2014, had declared that the new capital city would come up between Krishna and Guntur districts, by the side of the river Krishna.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)


Also read: How Jagan Reddy’s dream project of 3 capitals for Andhra has been stalled by 60 petitions


 

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