Hyderabad: On October 6, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy wrote a letter to Chief Justice of India, Sharad Aravind Bobde, alleging that Justice NV Ramana, next in line to be the CJI, had been influencing the sittings of the state High Court, including the roster of a few judges.
Reddy urged the CJI to ensure that the state’s judicial neutrality was maintained while pointing out the alleged nexus between Ramana and N Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party’s president and former CM of the state.
While the CJI is yet to respond to the unprecedented complaint by the CM making serious allegations on a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, observers argue that a closer scrutiny and probe into the complaint are crucial for upholding judicial accountability of the apex court.
“Ever since the YSR Congress Party gained power in May 2019 and ordered an enquiry into all the deals made by the regime of N Chandrababu Naidu from June 2014 to May 2019, Justice N V Ramana started influencing the course of administration of justice in the state,” alleged Reddy’s letter. The CM alleged that the beneficiaries of a set of recent High Court orders were TDP leaders while pointing out that Justice Ramana was a legal adviser and additional advocate-general in the previous TDP government.
On September 15, the Andhra Pradesh High Court stayed the investigation by the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau involving Dammalapati Srinivas, former Advocate General of the state and family members of Justice Ramana among others, related to the Amaravathi Land Scam case. Further, the court restrained print and electronic media from publishing the contents and context of the FIR registered by the regulatory authority.
Referring to the order, Jagan Reddy stated in his letter: “While the Supreme Court has been steadfast in ensuring no prior-restraint on publication by the media, a gag order on the media is passed.”
Notably, several veteran editors, senior journalists, and civil society organisations have also taken strong exception to the high court order restraining media and urged CJI Bobje to intervene into the matter.
“It is a serious complaint that needs closer scrutiny and probe by the Supreme Court for ensuring judicial accountability,” said Professor K Nageshwar, political analyst and former Member of Legislative Council (MLC).
While Reddy alleged that the High Court was being manipulated to “destabilise and topple my democratically elected government,” Nageshwar opined that several recent judgments were expectedly against the Andhra Pradesh government but “allegations of destabilising government appears to be exaggerated.” He added that the timing of the letter is curious as the CM had met the Prime Minister on the same day the letter was submitted to the CJI.
On the allegations of nexus between Justice Ramana and Chandrababu Naidu, C V Mohan Reddy, former Advocate General of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, commented that proximity between the two was “well known” in the state politics. Reddy said that the “closeness between Justice Ramana and Chandrababu Naidu was exposed back in 2005 by retired Judge BSA Swami.”
In the book titled ‘A Caste AP Judiciary’, Swami writes that NV Ramana was a conscience keeper of the then Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. In his book, Swami writes that without the approval of Ramana, Naidu as “CM will not clear any file relating to administration of Justice.”
The Chief Minister also referred to a letter by former Supreme Court Judge Jasti Chelmeswar in pointing out nexus between Ramana and Naidu. Reportedly, in a letter to former Chief Justice of India JS Khehar in 2017, Chelmeswar alleged “unwarranted intimacy’ between Ramana and Naidu pertaining to judicial promotions.
Meanwhile, Opposition parties in the state have criticised the YSRCP government for the letter.
“When persons or organisations aggrieved by the illegal and unconstitutional acts of your government seek redressal from courts and if the courts grant relief, how can you blame them,” said TDP politburo member Yanamala Ramakrishnudu.
“We have to presume that the letter to the CJI was a pre-planned strategy of the YSRCP, as the criminal cases against Jagan were coming up for speedy trial,” said Sake Sailajanath, president of Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee.