Benami transactions: SC rules out need for enquiry into conversation of ex-HC judge

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New Delhi, Apr 12 (PTI) The Supreme Court Monday ruled there was no need for enquiry into conversation of former Andhra Pradesh High Court justice V Eswaraiah with a suspended district munsif magistrate on alleged benami transactions in Amaravati land scam case as he himself have admitted it.

A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and R S Reddy said the Andhra Pradesh High Court has directed enquiry by former apex court judge Justice R V Raveendran into the transcript to find out the authenticity/genuineness of the conversation contained in the pen drive.

It said that since Eswaraiah has admitted on affidavit the conversation dated July 20, 2020, and has also filed the corrected transcript of the English translation of the audio tape, which is admitted to him, it see no reason to continue the enquiry by Justice R V Raveendran as directed by the high court by the impugned judgment.

“Authenticity and genuineness of the transcript having been admitted to the extent as contained in.., we are of the view that the direction by the High Court calling for a report from Justice R V Raveendran need not be allowed to continue. We order accordingly,” the bench said.

It said the high court in its judgment has clearly observed that the enquiry will not have any direct bearing on the issue involved in the main writ petition before it except to the extent of deciding the allegations made in the preliminary counter affidavit. The top court said the high court had closed hearing on the preliminary objection regarding maintainability of the PIL on July 31, 2020 and when interlocutory applications were filed to reopen the writ petition, the question before it was only with regard to maintainability of the writ petition.

The top court said, “We are of the view that the High Court ought not to have embarked on any other enquiry in the matter except to the maintainability of the PIL at the instance of the writ petitioner and the conversation dated July 20, 2020 filed before the High Court as well as the enquiry report sought was only with the above purpose”.

It said that now, English translation of the transcript of conversation dated July 20, 2020 having been admitted by the petitioner, which he himself has filed the court is of the view that in event, the high court intends to refer to the transcript, if required, the same can be done only after giving an opportunity to Eswaraiah.

The top court clarified that it has neither entered into the merits of the writ petition (pending before HC), nor is expressing any opinion on the maintainability of the PIL.

It is for the high court to proceed with it and decide the same, including the maintainability of the PIL, after hearing arguments on which point the orders were reserved, the top court added.

Eswaraiah had sought a stay of the high court order saying that the allegations have been made without hearing him.

On February 22, the top court had 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 high court on August 13, 2020, while ordering a judicial inquiry by a former apex court judge, had said the phone conversation allegedly disclosed a 'serious conspiracy' against the judiciary.

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 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 filed by Eswaraiah said.

The appeal 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 S Ramakrishna, was inaccurate and hence, misleading with respect to various aspects of the talk. PTI MNL SA