Note: This article had been removed on September 15, 2020, about an hour after it was first published, because of a gag order issued by the Andhra Pradesh high court. The article is being republished November 25, 2020, with both the original article and details of the gag order, after the Supreme Court today stayed the high court’s decision.
New Delhi: In what could snowball into a major controversy with national implications, the daughters of Justice N.V. Ramana — senior-most judge of the Supreme Court after Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and next in line to be CJI — have been accused of criminally conspiring with a former Advocate General of Andhra Pradesh to illegally purchase premium land in Amaravati, which until recently was to become India’s first greenfield capital city.
In an FIR registered at the office of the Director-General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Guntur on Wednesday, an advocate, Komatla Srinivasa Swamy Reddy, has alleged that Dammalapati Srinivas, who served as the AG during the N. Chandrababu Naidu regime, had used his influence to first gather information about the capital’s plan, and then purchase vast tracts of land accordingly in the premium core capital region.
The complainant alleged that Srinivas purchased land through multiple benamidars and relatives before December 2014, when the capital’s plan was first made public through the Capital Plan Authority Bill, 2014.
“It was alleged in the complaint that some of the public servants in high positions took advantage of their involvement in the decision-making process pertaining to the fixing of the exact location of the core capital area and that such people purchased lands for themselves either through benamidars or through their family members and associates/acquaintances after sharing the privileged information about the core capital area that they were privy to, thereby enriching themselves,” the FIR said, adding that Srinivas, then serving as the additional AG, was one such influential person to have bought lands directly or indirectly in villages that later were included as the core region of the proposed capital city.
The complainant claimed that the land value in the villages, which were included in the capital’s plan, shot up exponentially once the information was made public.
The same FIR alleged that Srinivas “entered into criminal conspiracy” with various purchasers, including Justice Ramana’s two daughters Nuthalapati Sritanuja and Nuthalapati Sribhuvana. Both Sritanuja and Sribhuvana have been named as the tenth and eleventh accused persons in the FIR, along with many of Srinivas’s family members and alleged associates.
It has been alleged that between August 13, 2014 and December 9, 2014, Srinivas and his associates purchased land in different mandals of Vijayawada and Guntur with “clear (prior) knowledge that those lands would fall either within the Core Capital Region or within the Capital Region Development Authority limits…”
“Some of the lands purchased were going to be adjacent to the Core Capital Region, and such lands were purchased to avoid their acquisition under (the) Land Pooling Scheme so that all those lands would be under the enjoyment of purchasers and would in turn pay rich dividends,” the FIR said.
On Tuesday morning, The Wire reported that Srinivas has already filed a writ petition at the Andhra Pradesh high court at Amaravati, seeking the court’s intervention to restrain the state police and the Centre from taking any coercive action against him.
He also demanded that a court-monitored probe be initiated into allegations of irregular land allotment in Amaravati during the Naidu regime. Srinivas dismissed the charges of amassing properties in the capital area of Amaravati, and alleged that the current YSR Jaganmohan Reddy-led government has instructed the state police and other investigative agencies to conduct enquiries against him “to create evidences (sic), by phone tapping, shadow policing and intimidating his relatives”.
He further said that the enquiry against him reeked of political vendetta, as he had represented the Naidu government as AG in multiple cases of corruption against chief minister Jaganmohan Reddy, one of which had also put Jagan in prison for 16 months.
The ACB has already initiated a regular inquiry into the matter, and appointed a DSP-rank official to conduct the probe.
The matter came up at the Andhra Pradesh high court on Wednesday but has now been postponed for a later date.
The inquiry is likely to come as a major embarrassment for Justice Ramana, who will serve as the Chief Justice of India from April, 2021 to September, 2022. The matter assumes significance also because at least three CJIs in the recent past have had to face similar discomfort because of allegations of one kind or another against their family members or associates or even themselves.
About an hour after the original publication of a story in The Wire (on September 15, 2020) providing details of a case registered by the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Andhra Pradesh pertaining to the sale of land in Amravati – designated as the state’s new capital by the erstwhile N. Chandra Babu Naidu government – we learned that the Andhra Pradesh high court has issued an injunction against any media reporting of the FIR and its contents.
The high court in its order noted the plea of the petitioner’s counsel that the registration of the FIR in question was
“immediately projected over the social media and newspapers against the petitioner and also two daughters of a sitting Judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, amounting to scandalizing the authority with a mala fide intention, by way of media trial. In view of the said facts, prayer is made not to take any coercive steps on the basis of registration of FIR including investigation after filing of the writ petition and its publication in the print, electronic and social media.”
Though we believe this gag order represents the circumscribing of free speech rights not envisaged by the constitution, we have, out of respect for the honourable high court, temporarily taken down the published story.
Readers will find below the full text of the order issued by Justice J.K. Maheshwari, chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh high court:
HIGH COURT OF ANDHRA PRADESH, AMARAVATI
MAIN CASE No: W.P.No.16468 of 2020
Sri Mukul Rohatgi and Shyam Divan, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of Sri Ginjupalli Subba Rao, counsel for the petitioner.
Learned Advocate General appearing on behalf of respondents 1 and 2.
Sri C.V.Mohan Reddy, learned senior counsel assisted by Smt.Renuka, standing counsel for respondent No.3.
Sri S.S.Prasad, learned senior counsel, assisted by Sri Venkateswara Rao, standing counsel for respondent No.4.
This writ petition, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, has been filed by the petitioner alleging mala fides against the State authorities, specifying the reasons as setup in the writ petition. It is stated that the petitioner herein held the office of Additional Advocate General and thereafter he had become the Advocate General and is a Senior Advocate having long standing at bar. For the reasons set out in the writ petition, he is being targeted by the Government and, in furtherance thereto, the Government wants to foist a false case against him, alleging purchase of property being aware of establishment of capital in Amaravati, prior to the date of identifying the capital in his name and that of others. Reference to the letter sent to the Income Tax Department dated 29.01.2020 and letter dated 23.03.2020 of the State Government, sent to the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Department of Personnel and Training, New Delhi, has been made to state it affects the personal liberty without any cogent basis. It is said that when action was not found justified by central agencies, the state agencies through Police are working out in a mala fide manner.
In view of the aforesaid, prayer is made to call for all the records pertaining to any enquiry/investigation being conducted by any of the State agencies and all the respondents, and to quash the letter dated 23.03.2020; further enquiry may be stayed and no coercive steps against the petitioner may be made. It is also stated that if any investigation is to be made by the State, it may be under the strict supervision of a Judge of the High Court or in the alternative under the supervision of a Retd. Judge of the High Court, looking to the political vendetta against the petitioner.
The petitioner has joined the present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh as party (respondent No.5) by name, but, at present, this court is not inclined to issue notice calling his presence/response.
Sri Mukul Rohatgi and Sri Shyam Divan, learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioners, have strenuously urged that, if there is any political vendetta, it may be against parties or persons of the respective parties, but, taking action on account of those reasons against a former Advocate General of the State and a Senior Advocate, is unheard of and not warranted, that too, in a planned way, as reflected in the present case. It is further stated that, after filing of this writ petition, when a learned Judge of this Court has recused hearing and directed the Registry to place the matter before Hon’ble the Chief Justice to list this case before another bench, FIR has been registered today, to give a political colour to it, on the basis of a complaint dated 07.09.2020, by the ACB. It is further urged that after filing of this petition and recusal from the case by the Hon’ble Judge of this Court, registration of offence immediately projected over the social media and newspapers against the petitioner and also two daughters of a sitting Judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, amounting to scandalizing the authority with a mala fide intention, by way of media trial. In view of the said facts, prayer is made not to take any coercive steps on the basis of registration of FIR including investigation after filing of the writ petition and its publication in the print, electronic and social media.
Reliance has been placed by the learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioner on a judgment of the Delhi High Court in the case of Naveen Jindal v. M/s.Zee Media Corporation Ltd., & Anr. [2015 SCC ONLINE DELHI 7810].
Per contra, learned Senior Counsel Sri C.V.Mohan Reddy, appearing on behalf of respondent No.3, contends that as the news has already come in the electronic media, therefore, the said relief is now rendered infructuous; even otherwise, media cannot be restrained to publish news. Reliance has been placed by him on the judgment of Hon’ble the Supreme Court in the case of Sahara India Real Estate Corporation Ltd. & others v. SEBI & Anr. [(2012) 10 SCC 603].
Learned Advocate General appearing on behalf of respondents 1 and 2 has strenuously urged that the manner, in which the pleadings have been made in the name of respondent No.5, is not proper; therefore, it is an abuse of process of the court. Thus, in such circumstances, interference by this court is not warranted.
Learned senior counsel S.S.Prasad, appearing on behalf of respondent No.4, in reference to the letter dated 23.03.2020, contends that, on account of the allegations as made against the petitioner, FIR has rightly been registered; therefore, at this stage, interference in this writ petition is not warranted.
After hearing learned counsel appearing on behalf of the parties and considering the facts of the case and the circumstances in which the issue cropped up with respect to a former Advocate General and also looking to the news as read during the course of hearing, in the considered opinion of this court, the response of respondents 1 to 4 and 6 is required. Let response be filed by them within a period of FOUR WEEKS.
Considering the prayer as made in I.A.Nos.1, 2 and 3 of 2020, by way of interim relief, it is directed that no coercive steps shall be taken in furtherance to FIR No.08/RCO-ACB-GNT/2020 of ACB, Guntur, dated 15.09.2020, which has been registered after filing of this writ petition against any of the accused. The enquiry, investigation is also stayed. It is further directed that the news in regard to registration of FIR or in the context of the said FIR shall not be made public in any electronic, print or social media, to foist the office of a former Advocate General and also with respect to the other alleged accused persons.
The Secretary, Home Department, Govt. of A.P., the Director General of Police, A.P., shall inform through the Information and Public Relations Department, Govt. of A.P., to the effect that no electronic or print news item be published with respect to the FIR No.08/RCO-ACB-GNT/2020 of ACB, Guntur, dated 15.09.2020 and connected events until further orders of this Court. Social media posts shall also not be published and, in this regard, the Director General of Police, A.P., and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, shall take steps to inform the relevant social media platforms/houses in this regard.
List this case for further hearing after FOUR WEEKS.
A copy of this order shall be communicated forthwith to the Secretary, Home Department, Govt. of A.P., the Director General of Police, A.P., the Information and Public Relations Department, Govt. of A.P., and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India and other connected stakeholders, if any. On receipt of copy, the Director General of A.P., shall ensure supervision and strict adherence to the directions of this court.
J.K. MAHESHWARI, CJ