Vijayawada: That Justice N.V. Ramana, the next-in-line- to-be-the-Chief Justice of India, is the target of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy is clear beyond any doubt.
But, who will benefit from the Reddy’s crusade if he succeeds in hitting his target?
Jagan’s letter, mailed to Justice SA Bobde, the CJI of the Supreme Court on October 6, sparked a debate centering around this question and its fallout. And, the debate with the possible reflections on the established procedure laid down for appointment of a new CJI after Bobde’s retirement due on April 23, 2021, continues to rage in the legal fraternity.
Two weeks on since Reddy mailing his letter to the CJI and it is yet to be seen as to how Justice Bobde will respond to it. If he intends to act on the letter, the CJI is expected to constitute a judges committee to inquire into the charges against Justice Ramana that the letter contained.
Justice Ramana will continue in service up to 12 August, 2022 and he will be the natural choice to succeed Bobde in a normal course. If he faces inquiry before the judges committee in case it is constituted by the CJI, regardless of whether he will prove his innocence, the prospects of his continuation as a member of the collegium and elevation of the next CJI appear dim. Because, it is too short a period to decide on the charges against him before the retirement of Bobde. It is also improper if someone facing an enquiry is tipped for the highest post in the judiciary, feel the legal experts.
In that case, Rohinton Fali Nariman, the next senior most judge of the Supreme Court will be the next CJI. He will be in the office for a short period of 74 days as he will retire on August 12, 2021. The next person in line is Justice Uday Umesh Lalit if justice Ramana is still out of race on grounds of allegations.
In that case, the battle waged by Jagan Reddy seemingly would come comes as a blessing in disguise for justice Lalit, a senior jurist next to Justice Ramana and Justice Nariman in order. If Justice Lalit is to ascend to the top post, Ramana is to be superseded two times—first, prior to Nariman’s elevation and next, after his retirement.
Justice Lalit, before his elevation as a judge of the Supreme Court in July, 2014 served as a counsel in the apex court. He represented the high-profile encounter killings of Sohrabuddin Sheik and Tulsi Prajapathi as a counsel for Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was then Gujarat Home Minister.
Shah was arrested in 2010 facing charges of murder and conspiracy, but he was later acquitted by the CBI Special Court.
There is more to Jagan Reddy shooting off his letter than meets the eye. Reddy initially met with Amit Shah on September 15 and latter he got a one-to-one interaction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for well over 40 minutes in a span of a fortnight. Overtly, his high-voltage Delhi trips were seen as something aiming to settle scores with his rival Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP and his aides with the help of the powers-that-be in the national capital. The CM even said at a media conference that he urged the PM to punish Naidu and his “cronies” tainted in the land scams in Amaravati after he handed the relevant case to the CBI. After that, Reddy got his letter along with other confidential documents released to the media by his Principal Advisor Ajeya Kallam at a media conference on September 8.
But Jagan’s rivals, of late, citing the sequence of events, began to see a larger picture beyond what meets the eyes.