The tussle between Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy and the Andhra Pradesh High Court has a new front, with the high court ordering the CBI to take up the investigation of multiple FIRs aganist leaders from Reddy’s YSRCP for defamatory posts against the court.
"“The person occupying high posts are indulging in waging war against the judicial system in the State of Andhra Pradesh oblivious of the fact that even their entity exists since there is a democratic system in our country. In a democratic State if such war is initiated against the judicial system by persons holding high positions, certainly it will create unnecessary doubt in the mind of citizen against the judicial system, which may cripple the entire system.”" - AP HC order dated 12 October
The order of the court on 12 October by Justices Rakesh Kumar and J Uma Devi comes in a writ petition filed by the court itself under Article 226 of the Constitution, “primarily with a view to protect its entity from the attack of some of antisocial elements in our State.”
WHAT IS THIS CASE ABOUT?
The ‘attacks’ in question are posts made on social media and interviews to the electronic media, in which the high court and its judges have been abused, threatened and intimidated for judgments delivered by them. The court has said that the conduct in question started in April 2020, when the court quashed an AP government order on introduction of English medium instruction in schools.
An example of the comments that the court has taken exception to include a comment by YSRCP MP Nandigam Suresh who claimed that former CM Chandrababu Naidu was ‘managing’ the high court, and knew about verdicts of the court before they were pronounced. This was then followed by YSRCP supporters posting social media messages talking about cutting the judges into pieces, keeping the judges in a room with a COVID patient, and calling the judges bastards.
Following orders by the high court in May against some other Andhra government actions, there was once again a flood of objectionable posts. “Even the persons occupying high position went to the media and gave interviews against the high court and its judges, that too, from the party office belonging to a political party, which is in power,” the order states.
Apart from Suresh, other senior YSRCP leaders who are supposed to have made objectionable comments include former MLA Amanchi Krishna Mohan, Metta Chandra Sekhar Rao, standing counsel for the AP legislative Assembly. According to one of the intervenors, even the Speaker of the Assembly, the Deputy Chief Minister and a Rajya Sabha MP have made “scathing remarks” against the judiciary.
Over the course of hearings in the matter, it was argued that the state CID’s investigations were attempting to shield prominent YSRCP leaders, which was why key accused persons weren’t named as accused in the FIRs and there had been few developments in the investigations. Without going into the merits of the allegations, the judges therefore decided to transfer the FIRs to the CBI, which was agreed to by the advocate general of the state as well.
The order goes on to say that it needs to be probed if these attacks on the judiciary are part of a larger conspiracy. “If it is noticed that it was due to the result
of larger conspiracy, the CBI is required to take appropriate action against such
culprits irrespective of the post and position.”
Furthermore, the court has also ordered the CBI to take steps to ensure that defamatory posts available on social media should be struck down, and any means to block these users under the law should also be explored.
Finally, the CBI has been asked to submit its report on the investigations to the Andhra Pradesh High Court in a sealed cover within eight weeks.
THE LETTER TO THE CJI
Although dealing with a separate set of matters, the order comes days after Reddy wrote to Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, alleging a “nexus” between one of the most senior judges of the Supreme Court, former CM Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, and judges of the AP High Court.
The CM went on to claim that the nexus between the apex court judge, TDP and high court judges can be seen in the way the Chief Justice of the AP High Court ordered a stay on the investigation of the FIR connected with the Amravati land scam on 15 September.
He also noted that “While the Supreme Court has been steadfast in ensuring no prior-restraint on publication by media,” the high court issued a gag order on the press regarding the issue on the same day.
It is also pointed out that Justice DVSS Somayajulu of the AP High Court passed an interim order the next day, staying any further proceedings based on the cabinet sub-committee report. The beneficiary of both these orders is claimed to be the TDP politicians.
"“The same clearly demonstrates the bias in the State judiciary towards the Telugu Desam Party and its interests, in the nature of the orders passed staying investigation, staying enquiry, and the rest, at the admission stage itself.”" - The letter by the Andhra CM to the CJI
The Andhra government had filed appeals in the Supreme Court against the high court orders in these matters.
The materials released by Reddy to the media include a list of decisions by various judges of the high court, which he claims show that “the august Institution of the high court is being used to destabilise and topple the democratically-elected Government of the State of AP, with indelible trail leading back to the overt and covert actions of Sri N Chandrababu Naidu through (top SC judge).”
Reddy has asked the CJI to look into the issue, and initiate any steps required “to ensure that the State judiciary’s neutrality is maintained.” The Supreme Court and the high court are yet to take any action or give any comments on the matter.
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