'Benami' deals: SC not to re-open hearing on ex-HC judge's plea against probe into conversation

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New Delhi, Apr 5 (PTI) The Supreme Court Monday refused to recommence hearing on a plea of former Andhra Pradesh High Court judge Justice V Eswaraiah against the high court order directing judicial probe into his conversation with a suspended District Munsif Magistrate on the alleged 'benami' transactions in Amaravati land scam and other issues.

A bench, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, which reserved verdict on Justice (retd) Eswaraiah's plea on February 22, was also urged by suspended District Munsif Magistrate S Ramakrishna, that the hearing be re-opened in view of various new facts including that his I-phone, seized by state police, was stolen between December 12, 2020 to February 25, 2021.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Ramakrishna, said the court may hear parties again on additional facts and material produced by the trial court judge.

“The special leave petition has been filed against the order of the High Court dated 13.08.2020 passed in Writ Petition (PIL)...which was already heard and judgment reserved. In so far as the Case Crime...is concerned, seizure of and the stealing of I-phone belonging to one Ramakrishna, it is for the concerned person to take appropriate proceeding in accordance with law.

“We see no reason to entertain these applications in the present petition. Both the interlocutory applications are disposed of accordingly. Let the special leave petition be listed for delivery of judgment on April 12, 2021,” the bench, also comprising justice R S Reddy, said in the order. The top court had on February 22 reserved its order on the plea of Justice Eswaraiah seeking a stay on the Andhra Pradesh High Court order directing a judicial inquiry into his conversation with Ramakrishna.

The bench had observed however that it cannot hold an inquiry as to what was there in the phone conversation between them with regard to various issues including alleged 'benami' transactions related to the Amaravati land scam case.

Prior to this, while ordering a judicial inquiry by a former apex court judge, the high court had said the phone conversation allegedly disclosed a “serious conspiracy” against the judiciary.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Justice Eswaraiah, had said the high court order needed to be stayed as allegations have been made without hearing the former high court judge.

“We will consider that,” the bench had said while reserving the verdict on Justice Eswaraiah's plea.

Bhushan had said nothing in the conversation needed to be enquired about and “yet, if the court decides to proceed with the matter and examine the private conversation, then there should be an enquiry into the whole thing”.

The submissions were opposed by senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Harish Salve, appearing for some intervenors.

Salve had said the former high court judge was using the opportunity given to him by the court to 'push his agenda by making allegations against a Supreme Court judge'.

Earlier, in an affidavit filed in the top court, Justice Eswaraiah said he had sought information from a suspended judicial officer regarding the benami transactions in a phone conversation, which purportedly pertained to corruption allegations related to land deals in the state''s new capital region.

The affidavit was filed in pursuance to the apex court''s January 11 direction asking Justice (retd) Eswaraiah to clarify his stand with regard to his conversation with the suspended district munsif.

“The special leave petition has been filed against the August 13 order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordering an investigation into a private phone conversation between the petitioner and a suspended District Munsif Magistrate of Andhra Pradesh, by terming the contents of the conversation to disclose a 'serious conspiracy' against the Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh, a senior sitting judge of the Supreme Court and thereby to destabilize the judiciary,” said the former high court judge in his appeal.

He had said the high court's order was made on the basis of an application for “reopening and intervention filed by the suspended District Munsif Magistrate (S Ramakrishna) in an unrelated PIL” pending there for seeking implementation of the COVID guidelines in the court building and premises.

The order for the enquiry into the conversation was made by the high court on the basis of the intervention and without even issuing notice to the former judge, the appeal said.

The plea sought a stay of the high court''s order for the enquiry on the ground that it was “unwarranted and illegal” and has been passed without a notice to Justice Eswaraiah and has caused “undue harassment” to him.

The high court, in its order, had requested former Supreme Court judge Justice R V Raveendran to inquire into the matter.

The plea said the former high court judge, in the phone conversation, had merely mentioned his knowledge about allegations of misconduct.

The plea alleged that the transcript of the conversation, provided by Ramakrishna, was inaccurate and hence, misleading with respect to various aspects of the talk. PTI SJK MNL SA