Noting that the “timing” of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s letter to Chief Justice of India S A Bobde, complaining against Justice N V Ramana, and the state’s move to make it public “could certainly be said to be suspect” in the wake of the latter’s order to expedite trial in cases against legislators, Attorney General K K Venugopal on Monday, however, declined consent to initiate proceedings against Reddy for criminal contempt of the Supreme Court.
In a letter to Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who had sought his consent to initiate criminal contempt of court proceedings against Reddy and the Chief Minister’s Principal Advisor Ajeya Kallam, Venugopal said since the matter is pending before the CJI, it will not be appropriate for him to deal with it. He did point out though that the conduct of Reddy and Kallam is prima facie “contumacious” – wilfully disobedient or rebellious.
Writing to Upadhyay, Venugopal said: “I have carefully gone through the contents of your petition. I find that the objectionable statements have been made in a letter dated 06.10.2020 written by the Chief Minister to the Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Mr. Justice S. A. Bobde. The letter was then released to the press by Sh. Ajeya Kallam, Principal Advisor to the Chief Minister, at a press conference on 10.10.2020. The Chief Justice is therefore well aware of the nature of the allegations contained in the said letter.”
“I am of the opinion that the timing itself of the letter, as well as its being placed in the public domain through a press conference could certainly be said to be suspect, in the background of the order passed by Justice Ramana dated 16.09.2020, directing pending prosecutions of elected representatives to be taken up and disposed of expeditiously. As you yourself have pointed out, there are 31 criminal cases pending against the Chief Minister,” he said.
“In this background, prima facie, the conduct of the said persons is contumacious. However, what has to be noted is, that the entire case of contempt arises out of the letter dated 6.10.2020 written by the Chief Minister directly to the Chief Justice of India and the subsequent press conference held by Sh. Kallam. The Chief Justice of India is therefore seized of the matter. Hence it would not be appropriate for me to deal with the matter. For these reasons, I decline consent to initiate proceedings for criminal contempt of the Supreme Court of India,” he said.
Upadhyay, in his letter seeking consent, had said Reddy’s letter and its subsequent release to the media by Kallam at a press conference “scandalise the authority of the Supreme Court and the High Court” apart from “interfering with the course of judicial proceedings and the administration of justice”.
He contended that “if this kind of precedent were allowed, political leaders would start making reckless allegations against judges who do not decide cases in their favour and this trend would soon spell the death knell of an independent judiciary”.
In 2016, Upadhyay had filed a PIL, seeking that special courts be set up to decide cases involving legislators in one year, and bar convicted persons from contesting elections.
Hearing this petition on September 16, a bench headed by Justice Ramana had asked High Court Chief Justices to constitute a special bench to monitor the progress of trial of criminal cases against sitting and former legislators, “forthwith” list all such cases which have been stayed, and decide whether the stay should continue or not.
It was after this order that proceedings against Reddy, in a disproportionate assets case, resumed in a CBI special court in Hyderabad on October 9. The very next day, Kallam, Reddy’s Principal Advisor, released the CM’s letter to the CJI at a press conference.
Reddy’s October 6 letter to the CJI alleged that Justice Ramana “has been influencing the sittings of the (Andhra Pradesh) High Court including the roster of few Honourable Judges”. The letter, which also pointed fingers at some of the judges of the HC, alleged judicial impropriety on the part of Justice Ramana and raised questions on certain land transactions allegedly involving members of his family.
On October 17, Justice Ramana, who is next in line to be the CJI, said, “it is an important quality for a judge to withstand all pressures and odds and to stand up bravely against all obstacles” and that a “vibrant and independent judiciary… is required in the current times”.
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