The Supreme Court refused on Monday to unflex its rules to entertain an unlisted oral plea on behalf of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to urgently hear his appeal for quashing the FIRs registered in the skill development scam case.
Appearing before a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, for Mr. Naidu, pressed the need for urgency, saying the “Opposition in the State has been curbed with Mr. Naidu’s custody”.
“When were you [Naidu] arrested,” Chief Justice asked.
Mr. Luthra said it was on September 8.
Indicating that there was no immediate urgency to take it up in the course of the day, Chief Justice Chandrachud asked Mr. Luthra to mention on September 26 after including the case in Tuesday’s mentioning list.
The special leave petition, filed through Mr. Naidu’s lawyer, advocate Guntur Pramod Kumar, said the FIRs were “an orchestrated campaign of regime revenge to derail the largest Opposition in the State”.
“The petitioner [Mr. Naidu] was suddenly named in the FIR registered 21 months ago, arrested in an illegal manner and deprived of his liberty, motivated only by political reasons. Even though there is no material against him, the petitioner is being made to suffer an illegal and motivated investigation in clear violation of his fundamental rights,” the special leave petition said.
The High Court had declined to quash the criminal cases filed against Mr. Naidu. It had also refused to set aside the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) court’s order to remand him.
The High Court, in its September 22 order, said the probe agency had initiated criminal action against Mr. Naidu after conducting extensive examination of witnesses and collection of documentary evidence following the registration of the crime in 2021. The investigation was at its final stage, the High Court had said.
The case involves alleged misappropriations made in the process of establishment of skill development institutions by Andhra Pradesh State Skill Development Corporation in collaboration with private companies.
The CID remand report alleged that Mr. Naidu “indulged in a criminal conspiracy with the intention of fraudulent misappropriation or otherwise conversion of government funds for his own use, disposal of property which was under the control of a public servant, besides engaging in cheating, forging documents and destroying evidence”.
Mr. Naidu argued that his name did not find a mention in the chargesheet. Further, his lawyers had contended in the High Court that the project was functional and the claim that public money was misappropriated did not have any basis.
His lawyers had argued that the alleged offences relate to policy decisions approved by the State Cabinet and cannot be the subject of criminal proceedings. The ₹360-crore allotment for the skill development project was included in the 2015-16 Budget. They argued that the prosecution did not get the mandatory prior sanction under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act before instituting criminal proceedings against Mr. Naidu. The defence side contended that prior sanction from the Governor was required as the decision to undertake the project was part of the official duties of Mr. Naidu when he was Chief Minister. Mr. Naidu’s team claimed the FIRs were motivated.
“No police officer can conduct an enquiry or inquiry or investigation into an act allegedly done by a public servant in the course of discharge of his office without the prior approval of the competent authority,” the petition in the Supreme Court submitted.