On October 10, the office of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh YS Jagan Mohan Reddy issued an explosive letter written by him to the Chief Justice of India S. A Bobde. The letter, dated October 6, accused incumbent High Court Judge N. V Ramana of “influencing Supreme Court (AP) hearings including the list of several honorary judges” and cited “cases of how important Desam’s parties in Telugu (opposition to the AP) have been appointed to several honorary judges…. , in the nature of the orders approved while staying under investigation, staying under investigation and the rest… “.
The CM, as head of state, has asked the Supreme Court to consider the “subject” and “consider the initiation of such steps… considered reasonable and appropriate to ensure that the neutrality of the state judiciary is maintained”.
Justice NV Ramana is the first in line for the CJI post and is expected to take office in April 2021.
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The tightly worded letter, which also accused two of Justice Ramana’s daughters of being “beneficiaries of various controversial transactions” (according to the main report of a cabinet subcommittee investigation), has come at what appears to be an opportune moment for the first time CM and his YSR Congress Party government, which came to power in the AP in 2019. Over the past week, the CM has been in talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah, amid speculation that his party may join the National Democratic Alliance.
On Monday evening, the high court in Andhra Pradesh ordered a CBI investigation into allegations of “derogatory comments” made by YSRCP leaders on social media against the judiciary.
“The current accusations are against Justice NV Ramana which will be the next CJI. And the charges against him are raised by another constitutional functionary, the Prime Minister of a state. He is the properly elected representative of the people and the head of state. The letter should be given due importance. If this letter is not given importance and the matter is not brought forward, then what other complaint would be received? asks CV Mohan Reddy, who was Andhra Pradesh Advocate General between 2004 and 2009, when Jagan’s father and YS Congress leader Rajasekhara Reddy was prime minister.
In an interview with HuffPost India, Reddy noted that the YSR Reddy government had also written to the then CJI in 2008 against a High Court judge.
“At that time we did not receive any response from the CJI. In fact, we had not expected any response from the CJI because the letter only called into question the judge’s political comments. We had not questioned his integrity as a judge. “This example of the AP CM addressed to the CJI, however, is different from the 2008 letter,” he said.
Excerpts edited from the interview.
The letter of AP Chief Minister Yagan Mohan Reddy to the Chief Justice of India is in the public domain. Is a Prime Minister writing to the CJI with charges against a High Court judge an unprecedented move?
This is not the first time a government has complained about a judge sitting on the CJI. In 2008, when YS Rajasekhara Reddy was the Prime Minister of Andhra Pradesh, his government wrote to the then CJI (KG Balakrishnan) against a judge in the Supreme Court.
Why was this complaint made? Did you get a response from CJI?
In the letter, the government accused the incumbent judge of issuing statements of a political nature in favor of a political party. At that time we did not receive any response from CJI. In fact, we had not expected any response from the CJI because the letter only called into question the judge’s political comments. We had not questioned his integrity as a judge. This CM instance of AP writing to CJI is, however, different from the 2008 letter.
How is it different?
The letter was not first written by the CM in 2008. It was written by the YSR-led congressional government law minister. Second, the first letter concerned only politically motivated comments from an incumbent judge. The letter sent by Prime Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy questions the integrity of Supreme Court Justice Justice N. V Ramana, accusing him of interfering in the AP government on behalf of another political party (TDP). This letter also contains details of the actions of the sitting judge and that of his family members and friends who has guaranteed such a complaint from the CM.
Do you expect CJI Bobde to look into the matter this time?
Yes of course. The current charges are against Justice N. V Ramana who is in line to be the next CJI. And the charges against him are raised by another constitutional functionary, the Prime Minister of a state. He is the properly elected representative of the people and the head of state. The letter should be given due importance. If this letter is not given importance and the matter is not brought forward, then what other complaint would be received?
This allegation was also made after the Supreme Court conducted an internal investigation against the former CJI Justice Ranjan Gogoi, refused to penalize him and later came to senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan for ‘contempt of court‘Can Jagan Mohan Reddy be accused of undermining the authority of the court, which is the most powerful institution of jurisprudence in the country?
Contempt for the court cannot be used as a weapon to silence criticism. People have the right to raise sincere complaints that they have. Most importantly, a grievance which is based on facts that may be discernible from the grievance itself may not lead to contempt proceedings. The issue cannot be brought under the rug by calling contempt proceedings.
If the Supreme Court wants to prove itself supreme, as an institution on which people can rely or an institution which is willing to take action against its members when such appeals are lodged, it must consider this appeal.
If the Supreme Court takes action to end such political affiliation, it will certainly strengthen the institution whose foundation was shaken over the political appointment of a former judge shortly after his retirement.
Can the head of the legislature expect the highest court to consider such a case, especially when there is no precedent? Doesn’t that mean undermining the authority of one SC judge and five other High Court judges mentioned in the letter?
Yes, it undermines authority. Appealing against anyone in power can be treated by that person as an attempt to undermine their authority. But this does not mean that his behavior should not be watched. In addition, a former Chelameswar High Court judge in 2017 had underlined the link between Justice Ramana and Chandra Babu Naidu when he wrote a letter about the dirty game in the court appointment.
Can this be seen as a power struggle between the legislature and the courts?
This complaint was filed by the PM. In fact, the legislator is not involved in this matter. In my opinion, it should have been set up in the AP legislature and a resolution should have been passed before it was taken in the SC. Here, the PM has filed the complaint as the executive head of state.
Although the alleged intention of the Chief Minister of the AP is for the High Court to ‘consider the case’ and ‘consider the initiation of such steps as may be deemed appropriate and appropriate’, will any other judge benefit? if Justice Ramana is involved in any investigation?
I do not think anyone will benefit.
Even when it seems clear that Justice UU Lalit, who will succeed Justice Ramana as CJI, can have a longer term? If Justice Ramana takes office as CJI on April 24, 2021 and retires on August 26, 2022, Justice Lal would need about two months to be CJI. If Justice Ramana is exceeded due to an investigation being sought by CM, Justice Lalit, who was once Interior Minister Amit Shah’s lawyer, is expected to take over two years as CJI.
I do not think such a ‘favor’ is at all the basis of the complaint. It’s not that CM Jagan Mohan Reddy has ties or needs any favor from Justice Lalit. Nor can Justice Lalit as CJI assist the CM in all the various issues (13 Enforcement Directorate) it faces.
CM only complained because a Supreme Court judge deviated from his path of helping someone politically.
Are there other cases where incumbent judges of the Supreme Court have been denied CJI seats due to political pressure?
When Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, several Supreme Court judges were replaced.
But this in turn was followed by an extraordinary statement by the state.
It is not because of the emergency that the four judges’ supership happened. This was because Ms. Gandhi wanted a CJI that was loyal to the ruling regime.
Should such attempts to control the judiciary be imitated?
It should not be, and that is why the Prime Minister’s letter is even more important.
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