SC agrees to hear AP's plea against stay on SIT probe in Amaravati land deals

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New Delhi, Nov 5 (PTI) The Supreme Court Thursday agreed to hear a plea of Andhra Pradesh government challenging the High Court order staying SIT probe into alleged irregularities in land deals in Amaravati Capital Region during the previous TDP regime of N Chandrababu Naidu. The Andhra Pradesh High Court on September 16 had granted a stay on the actions of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy-led state government to conduct a comprehensive probe into various irregularities, particularly the land deals in the Amaravati Capital Region.

The apex court sought response from two Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leaders -- Varla Ramaiah and Alapati Rajendra Prasad, a former minister -- on whose petitions the high court had stayed the probe initiated by the SIT. A bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and M R Shah issued notices and sought replies from the two TDP leaders within four weeks and said that it will finally hear the matter on the next date and dispose of the petition of the state government.

“Issue notice on the special leave petitions as well as on the application for interim relief, returnable within four weeks. The respondent may file counter affidavit before the next date of hearing. The Court may decide the matter finally. Liberty is granted to the petitioners to file additional documents,” the bench said in its order.

During the hearing, senior advocates Dushyant Dave and Shekhar Naphade, appearing for Andhra Pradesh government, said that High Court had erred in staying the operation of SIT as it was a policy decision to look into the irregularities committed in the land deals.

Dave argued that it was a “drastic order” by the High Court by which it had stayed the investigation into the alleged irregularities committed in the land deals in Amaravati after State’s bifurcation into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

He said that State Cabinet has taken a decision to look into the distress caused to the people and to look into the allegations of irregularities after which a cabinet sub-committee was constituted to look into the complaints of irregularities.

Dave said in December, 2019, the cabinet sub-committee submitted its report and suggested that CBI probe or SIT probe be ordered to look into the alleged land deals in Amaravati Capital region.

“I will place before the court the entire sub-committee report which had found several irregularities in allotment of land,” he told the bench and added that after the state government constituted the SIT.

The bench asked the senior advocate what happened to the letter written to Centre for CBI probe to which he replied that they have not received any response yet.

“The SIT, in accordance with term of reference started the investigation”, Dave said, adding that the High Court cannot have exercised power under Article 226 of the constitution as this was not PIL which it was hearing but writ petitions filed by some “busy bodies”.

He said that the petition was filed by the TDP leaders and the High Court could not have entertained the petition at the first place but it went on to stay a policy decision, which was taken after proper enquiry.

He said that the TDP leaders had no locus in the matter and high court could not have interfered with the executive decision.

The bench drew the attention of Dave to High Court observation that the state government has decided to review all decisions taken by the previous government and asked him, was this correct? Dave replied, “No, only those decisions of the previous government are being reviewed where gross irregularities have been committed”.

He said, “The High Court had interdicted us from registering any case. The High Court is bound by law and orders of this court. It has to see the locus of persons before it. A serious challenge from a non bonafide person is this how the High Court would have acted. This was not a review of statutory order. How can injunction be granted in a matter like this”.

Dave pointed out that the government in fact did not rush to lodge cases against persons responsible for the irregularities but waited for six months for the cabinet sub-committee's report which thoroughly examined the issue.

He sought issuance of the notice on the appeal of the state government and requested the court to finally decide the issue without keeping it pending.

The bench agreed with the suggestion and asked Dave and the respondents TDP leaders to file additional documents and counter affidavits respectively.

On September 16, the High Court had passed the order on two writ petitions filed by the two TDP leaders, challenging the legality of the SIT.

The Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy government had constituted the 10-member SIT, headed by a Deputy Inspector General of Police- rank IPS officer, on February 21 to conduct a comprehensive investigation into various alleged irregularities, particularly the land deals in the Amaravati Capital Region, during the previous Chandrababu Naidu regime.

The report of a Cabinet Sub-Committee on the 'procedural, legal and financial irregularities and fraudulent transactions concerned with various projects, including the issues related to land in the CRDA region will form the basis for the SIT probe, the government had said.

Challenging the state governments order, the TDP leaders contended that the constitution of SIT was 'arbitrary, illegal, without jurisdiction and unconstitutional' and consequently sought that it be set aside. PTI MNL ABA SJK MNL RKS RKS