Benami deals: SC to pronounce verdict on ex-HC judge's plea against order of probe into conversation

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New Delhi, Apr 11 (PTI) The Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver on Monday the judgement on a plea of former Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice V Eswaraiah against a judicial probe into his conversation with a suspended district munsif magistrate on alleged benami transactions in Amaravati land scam and other issues.

A bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and R S Reddy had on February 22 reserved its order on the plea of Eswaraiah seeking a stay on the Andhra Pradesh High Court order directing the judicial inquiry into his conversation with suspended district munsif magistrate S Ramakrishna.

The top court, meanwhile, on April 5 refused to recommence hearing on the plea.

Ramakrishna had sought reopening of the hearing, saying various new facts, including that his I-phone, seized by state police, was stolen between December 12, 2020 to February 25, 2021, have come to light now.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Ramakrishna, had said the court might 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 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 had said on April 5.

While reserving its verdict on February 22, the bench had observed 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 Eswaraiah, had said the high court order needed to be stayed as allegations have been made without hearing the former high court judge.

The bench had said it will consider the submissions of the former high court judge that allegations were made in the high court without hearing him.

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 destabilise 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 Ramakrishna in an unrelated PIL pending there for seeking implementation of the COVID guidelines in the court building and premises.

The order for the inquiry 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 inquiry 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 enquire into the matter.

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

It also alleged that the transcript of the conversation, provided by Ramakrishna, was inaccurate and hence, misleading with respect to various aspects of the talk.