law justice

The Hindu Nov 17 reported:

“Supreme Court Justice U.U. Lalit who was to hear three petitions seeking action against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, has recused himself and has asked the Chief Justice to assign the cases to another Bench. Justice Lalit, who was heading the three-judge Bench hearing the petitions, gave the reason that he had represented some of the parties earlier as a lawyer. The petitions relate to Mr. Reddy’s allegations that another Supreme Court Justice, N.V. Ramana, was influencing the judges of the High Court in Andhra Pradesh and ensuring that cases that are of importance to his rival Telugu Desam Party were being assigned to select judges.”

Judges recusing themselves has been a frequent feature in related cases, it is alleged, to favor TDP which made it a device to suit its interests.

Former Supreme Court lawyer and judicial activist Prashant Bhushan, on twitter,  has called for a thorough investigation into the allegations leveled against a sitting Supreme Court judge.

“In a letter to CJI S.A. Bobde, AP CM Jagan Reddy accused Justice N.V. Ramana of corruption&of conspiring against his government on behalf of TDP leader Chandra Babu Naidu.” The allegations are serious & certainly require a quick, crebible & thorough probe.’

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Judiciary involved in politics

At a press briefing on October 10, the chief minister’s principal advisor, Ajeya Kallam, a former Chief Secretary of AP Govt., led by TDP Chandra Babu Naidu said :

The High Court has passed nearly 100 orders negating a slew of key decisions of the Jaganmohan Reddy government in the last 18 months of his rule. The decisions put on hold by the High Court include decentralisation of the administration by way of shifting capital out of Amaravati, abolition of the AP Legislative Council and the removal of AP State Election Commission N. Ramesh Kumar.

Chief minister Mr. Reddy made these allegations against Justice Ramana in a letter to the Chief Justice of India on October 6. Subsequently, the letter was made public in a press conference on October 10 by the CM’s Principal Secretary.

At a press briefing on October 10, the chief minister’s principal advisor, Ajeya Kallam, a former Chief Secretary of AP Govt., distributed copies of Jagan Reddy’s letter – dated October 6, 2020 – and also read out a note in which the chief minister alleged that Justice Ramana had used his influence with the erstwhile N. Chandra Babu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government in the state to favour his daughters.

Since this specific allegation figures in the FIR that was registered last month on the Amaravati land allotment issue and which the AP high court has injuncted the media from reporting, media is refraining from providing any details of the charges. In another order, the high court also put on hold a report submitted by the cabinet sub-committee of the Reddy government on various acts of commission and omission of the previous TDP government.

According to Kallam, the Andhra Pradesh government believed that Justice Ramana has played a crucial role in swaying judicial appointments in the state courts, which Reddy believes was done to swing decisions in favour of TDP leaders who are facing multiple corruption charges. He claimed that the Jagan Reddy government has established through a probe that former chief minister Naidu and many others associated with his party had amassed “huge wealth” by “illegal means”.

The media note said that Justice Ramana and his “cohorts” had allegedly acted against his government. The Andhra Pradesh government further accused the Supreme Court judge of sharing a close relationship with the former TDP chief minister. “I am making this statement with utmost responsibility. I may only bring it to your notice that a former judge of the honourable Supreme Court, Justice Chelameswar, placed this fact on record with EVIDENCE,” Reddy’s letter said, while emphasising Justice Ramana’s alleged proximity to Naidu.

The evidence the chief minister referred to is the fact that the opinion Justice Ramana expressed in a letter to the CJI in 2017 about the suitability of certain judges for the AP high court was identical to what Naidu had also written about them as chief minister.

Kallam, who served as chief secretary during the Naidu government, told reporters that “the government deemed it fit to speak to ensure that dignity of all institutions of the state is preserved”. After reading out statement, he wound up his media interaction without taking any questions from the media. Initially, there was a talk of the chief minister himself holding the media meet but the job at the last minute was entrusted to Kallam.

In his letter to Chief Justice Bobde, Jagan Reddy cited instances of how Naidu was allegedly scuttlings investigations and functioning by using his “cohorts” in the state judiciary. Reddy’s note alleged that Justice Ramana helped the Naidu regime handpick six out of an eleven-member panel of members from the high court bar and promoted them as acting judges.

“Sri Justice N.V Ramana has been influencing the sittings of the High Court including the roster of a few Honourable Judges and instances of how matters important to Telugu Desam Party have been allocated to a few Honourbale Judges…,” the Chief Minister alleged in the letter, adding that he has annexed documents which show the “nexus” between Justice Ramana, TDP, and a few judges of the high court.

“With a sense of pain and anguish at the politicisation of institutions personally monitored by Sri N. Chandrababu Naidu through honourable sitting Judges of Supreme Court, facts would clearly demonstrate that the august institution of the High Court is being used to destabilize and topple the democratically elected Government of the State of A.P. with indelible trail leading back to the overt and covert actions of Sri N. Chandrababu Naidu through Honourable Sri Justice N. V. Ramana,” Reddy said in his letter.

The ‘media note’ issued by Reddy made further allegations:

  • “Since the new government undertook the enquiry into the  actions of Sri N. Chandrababu Naidu in his regime between 2014-2019, it is now clear, that Sri Justice N. V. Ramana, started influencing the course of administration of justice in the State, through the Chief Justice Sri Jitendra Kumar Maheswari.”
  • “Roster for sitting of the Honourable Judges, whereby important matters of policy and protection for Chandrababu Naidu’s interests were posted before a few Honourable Judges – Justice A.V. Sesha Sai, Justice M. Satyanarayana Murthy, Justice D.V. S.S. Somayyajulu, Justice D. Ramesh.”

The High Court has passed nearly 100 orders negating a slew of key decisions of the Jaganmohan Reddy government in the last 18 months of his rule. The decisions put on hold by the High Court include decentralisation of the administration by way of shifting capital out of Amaravati, abolition of the AP Legislative Council and the removal of AP State Election Commission N. Ramesh Kumar.

“The government decided to demolish encroachments on the river bed to safeguard river ecology but the process was put on hold by the court,” the media note said.

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Former Advocate General of AP C.V. Mohan Reddy on the implications of CM’s  letter

C.V. Mohan Reddy, who was Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh when Jagan Mohan Reddy’s father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was the CM, spoke on the implications of the letter.

On October 10, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s office released an explosive letter written by him to Chief Justice of India S. A Bobde. The letter, dated October 6, accused Supreme Court’s sitting judge, N. V Ramana of “influencing the sittings of the (AP) High Court including the roster of a few honourable judges” and cited “instances of how matters important to Telugu Desam Party (opposition in AP) have been allocated to a few honourable judges…”. The letter complete with annexures, has also accused the state judiciary and five of its judges of “bias…towards Telugu Desam Party and its interests, in the nature of orders passed staying investigation, staying enquiry and the rest…”.

Justice N.V. Ramana is first in line for the CJI’s post and is expected to assume office in April 2021.

C.V. Mohan Reddy, who was Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh when Jagan Mohan Reddy’s father Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was the CM, on the implications of the letter.

In an interview with HuffPost India, 14/10/2020, Reddy pointed out that Y.S.R. Reddy’s government had also written to the then-CJI in 2008 against a sitting High Court judge.

“At the time we did not get any response from the CJI. In fact, we had not expected any response from the CJI because the letter only questioned the judge’s political comments. We had not questioned his integrity as a judge. This instance of the CM of AP writing to the CJI is, however, different from the 2008 letter,” he said.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

AP Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s letter to the Chief Justice of India is in the public domain. Is a Chief Minister writing to the CJI with allegations against a sitting Supreme Court judge an unprecedented move? 

This is not the first time that a government complained against a sitting judge to the CJI. In 2008, when Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, his government did write to the then CJI (K.G Balakrishnan) against a sitting High Court judge.

Why was this complaint made? Did you get a response from the CJI? 

In the letter, the government accused the sitting judge of issuing statements which are political in nature in favour of a political party. At the time we did not get any response from the CJI. In fact, we had not expected any response from the CJI because the letter only questioned the judge’s political comments. We had not questioned his integrity as a judge. This instance of the CM of AP writing to the CJI is, however, different from the 2008 letter.

How is it different? 

First the letter was not written by the CM in 2008. It was written by the law minister of the YSR-led Congress government. Second, the first letter was only about politically motivated comments by a sitting judge. The letter sent by Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy questions the integrity of the sitting Supreme Court judge, Justice N. V Ramana, and accuses him of interfering with the AP government on behalf of another political party (TDP). This letter also has details of the sitting judge’s actions and that of his family members and friends which has warranted such a complaint from the CM.

Do you expect CJI Bobde to look into the matter this time? 

Yes, of course. The current allegations are against Justice N. V Ramana who is in line to be the next CJI. And the allegations against him are raised by another constitutional functionary, the Chief Minister of a state. He is the duly elected representative of the people and the head of the state. The letter should be given due importance. If this letter is not given importance and the matter is not taken forward, then which other complaint would be taken up?

This allegation has also come up after the Supreme Court conducted an internal enquiry against former CJI Justice Ranjan Gogoi, refused to penalise him and later came down on senior advocate Prashant Bhushan for ’contempt of court’. Can Jagan Mohan Reddy be accused of undermining the authority of the court, which is the most powerful institution of jurisprudence in the country? 

Contempt for court cannot be used as a weapon to silence criticism. People have the right to raise genuine grievances that they have. Most importantly, a complaint which is based on facts that can be discerned from the complaint itself, cannot attract contempt proceedings. The matter cannot be swept under the carpet by invoking contempt proceedings.

If the Supreme Court wants to prove itself supreme, as an institution on which people can rely or an institution which is willing to take action on its own members when such complaints are raised, it has to take this complaint into consideration.

If the Supreme Court takes action to end such political nexus, it will certainly strengthen the institution the foundation of which was shaken over a former judge’s political appointment soon after his retirement.

Can the head of the legislature expect the highest court to look into such a matter, especially when there is no precedent? Doesn’t it amount to undermining the authority of a sitting SC judge and five other High Court judges named in the letter? 

Yes, it does undermine the authority. Complaint against anybody who is in power can be treated by that person as an attempt to undermine their authority. But that does not mean that his conduct should not be looked into. Besides, a former judge of the Supreme Court Justice Chelameswar in 2017 had underlined the nexus between Justice Ramana and Chandra Babu Naidu, when he wrote a letter about foul play in judicial appointment.

Can this be looked at as a power tussle between the legislature and the courts? 

This complaint was raised by the CM. In fact, the legislature is not involved in the matter. In my opinion, it should have been raised in the AP legislature and a resolution should have been passed before it was taken to the SC. Here, the CM has raised the complaint as the executive head of the state.

Even though the AP Chief Minister’s professed aim is for the Supreme Court to ‘look into the subject matter’ and ‘consider initiating such steps as may considered fit and proper’, will any other judge stand to benefit if Justice Ramana is implicated in any probe? 

I do not think anyone will benefit.

Not even when it seems to be apparent that Justice U.U. Lalit, who is to succeed Justice Ramana as CJI, could get a longer term? If Justice Ramana assumes charge as CJI on April 24, 2021 and retires on August 26, 2022, Justice Lalit would get just about two months to be CJI. If Justice Ramana is overstepped on account of a probe which is being demanded of by the CM, Justice Lalit, who was once home minister Amit Shah’s lawyer, is expected to get over two years of term as CJI.

I do not think that such a ‘favour’ is the basis of the complaint at all. It is not that CM Jagan Mohan Reddy is related to or needs any favour from Justice Lalit. Neither can Justice Lalit as the CJI help the CM in all the various (13 Enforcement Directorate) cases he is facing.

The CM complained only because a judge of the Supreme Court went out of his way to politically help somebody.

Are there other instances when sitting judges of the Supreme Court were denied the CJI’s chair because of political pressure? 

When Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister, several Supreme Court judges were superseded.

But that in turn was followed by a declaration of state emergency. 

It is not because of the emergency that the supersession of four judges took place. It was because Mrs Gandhi wanted a CJI who is loyal to the ruling regime.

Should such attempts to control the judiciary be emulated? 

It should not be, and that is why the Chief Minister’s letter is even more important.

https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/jagan-mohan-reddy-ap-cm-letter-justice-nv-ramana_in_5f847387c5b62f97bac61538

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tribuneindia.com in an editorial, Oct 13, 2020, said:

The judiciary has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons once again. In an unprecedented move, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy has written to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, levelling serious allegations against Justice NV Ramana, the senior-most Supreme Court judge, and some judges of the state high court. He talked of attempts to ‘destabilise’ his government. Alleging that Justice Ramana was close to TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu, Reddy wrote to the CJI that ‘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.’

Naidu and some of his associates are facing corruption charges in connection with land deals. Last month, the Andhra Pradesh High Court restrained the media from reporting about allegations of corruption in land deals in Amaravati. Coming from a CM facing a large number of cases, the allegations have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Also, the Reddy government’s move to go public with the content of the CM’s letter, without waiting for the CJI’s decision, can’t be appreciated. But it’s equally true that successive governments at the Centre have misused the CBI and other Central agencies to settle political scores with rival leaders. The UPA government instituted several cases against Jaganmohan after his father’s death in a helicopter crash.

But the issues involved are far more serious than corruption allegations against the CM or the TDP leader who are engaged in a political slugfest. Justice Ramana is likely to be the next CJI in April 2021, after Justice Bobde demits office. Reddy’s letter raises questions which can’t be simply termed as an attempt to scandalise the judiciary. He is neither an activist, like advocate Prashant Bhushan, nor a disgruntled judge like Justice CS Karnan who levelled mindless allegations against several judges, inviting contempt proceedings from the Supreme Court. What is at stake is the very credibility of the judiciary as an institution. It’s high time the CJI takes steps to address the matter.


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