Vijayawada: The letter war waged by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy against six senior jurists at the helm in the Supreme Court and AP High Court raised serious questions over his motives to get “street justice” while seeking an outlet in the highest authority of the apex court.
The eight-page letter, drafted on October 6 accusing the judges of “bias” against his government and “nexus” with the TDP’s N. Chandrababu Naidu, was put in the public domain after a gap of one day without giving sufficient time for the CJI to act on it. The CJI apparently should have been given sufficient time to constitute an in-house inquiry to go into the allegations and find prima facie evidence. Instead, the CM has tried to find a remedy through media, legal experts believe.
Along with the letter, a bunch of confidential dossiers relating to certain observations made by the top brass of the high court and the apex court on selection of candidates for posting as additional judges of high court from the bar quota way back in 2016, has been given.
The CM’s action has triggered a debate whether he will, by doing so, would attract the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act in the light of the recent case of Prashant Bhushan. Bhushan, a senior advocate, tweeted a photograph of Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde on an expensive Harley Davidson motorcycle. Bhushan further said it was hypocritical of the chief justice to be in a crowd without a mask when the justice had ordered the court to shut down during the coronavirus outbreak, denying Indians of their “fundamental right to access justice.” The apex court took up the case suo moto, and convicted him under the Contempt of Court Act. It’s just a criticism made by Bhushan that attracted the contempt provisions. But Jagan Reddy made serious allegations, attributing motives to six judicial officers, including a judge in the line to be the CJI, succeeding the present incumbent CJI Bobde, AP High Court Chief Justice JK Maheswari and four of HC judges.
Will it amount to contempt?
Former Central RTI Commissioner and legal expert Madabhushi Sridhar in a webinar on Monday said it is certainly a fit case to be tried under the Contempt of Court Act. The amended Act allows CM to defend himself saying he made the complaint in the interest of public interest at large. But his complaint to the competent authority became redundant after it was made public at a media conference, he observed.
What is seemingly more disturbing is the impact of the CM’s accusations on the conduct of judges on the ongoing process of trial of criminal cases against several former and sitting MPs and legislators across the country.
Impact on the benches
According to Madabhushi, Jagan Reddy’s questioning the discretion of the CJI of high court in adopting roasters for allotment of cases and constitution of benches is bound to have a debilitating impact on bunches of cases of different nature under trial on the benches.
Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who is a Supreme Court’s amicus curiae, termed the Jagan’s action as “bench hunting.” He told the media persons that the charges against the judges were aimed at intimidating judiciary at a time when the Supreme Court is overseeing special courts tasked with speedy trial of criminal cases against law makers.
Hansaria had submitted a report to the top court on 9 September on the status of pending cases against MPs/MLAs, pointing to tardy progress in over 4,000 such matters, despite SC orders to speed up the trial.
Will his crusade help?
Strikingly, Jagan Reddy in an affidavit submitted to the Chief Election Commission of India as a candidate for Pulivendula Assembly segment before the elections in 2019, stated that he is involved in 31 criminal cases.
They include seven ED cases relating to money laundering and 11cases of quid pro quo in nature being investigated by the CBI.