The sorry plight of the Andhra Pradesh higher judiciary

The High Court of Andhra Pradesh has seen many a legal gem and it is unfortunate that today, one of the three organs of the state, the executive, appears to have lost faith in the judiciary and the very same High Court. Who can forget Justice Koka Subba Rao who was the first Chief Justice and later went on to become the ninth Chief Justice of India in 1966? Or that Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy was the beacon for other High Courts?

Also read: ‘It’s up to the CJI to take a decision on CM’s letter’

The two sides

Against such a backdrop, the  letter by the Chief Minister of the State of Andhra Pradesh to the Chief Justice of India, with allegations against a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court of India is cause for concern.

While some could argue that the executive could have a grudge against the judiciary and that the grievance aired by the Chief Minister of the State could be a reflection of this, at the same time, one cannot gloss over whatever the High Court has done. The Chief Minister’s allegation is that the High Court is being controlled by loyalists of his predecessor in office and political rival, passing orders against his regime and its actions. From the High Court’s point of view, the State police is reluctant to take action against those carrying on an online campaign against the court.

The orders passed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh are disturbing. For example, the order gagging the press and directing the media (print, electronic, and social media) to take down whatever has already been published is quite strange since this protects not only the petitioner, the former Advocate General, but also the others named or not named in the First Information Report (FIR). Those named in the FIR, other than the former Advocate General, are not even aggrieved as they did not approach the court for similar relief. But the gag-and-take-down order protects them too, without their being parties to the proceedings.

Also read: Andhra CM Jagan Mohan Reddy complains to CJI against Supreme Court judge

This makes the writ petition a proxy litigation, filed not only on behalf of the petitioner, but also on behalf of all others. Considering the high profile of two persons named in the FIR who were not before the court, the stay of investigation, the stay of arrest of all those named and not named in the FIR, and the direction issued to the media not to publish and to take down whatever has already been published is shocking and the government is justified in making a grievance out of it.

One that is self-inflicted

But the damage caused by the High Court to its own reputation by something done on the administrative side is even more shocking. In a writ petition filed by the BC, SC, ST and Minority Student Federation seeking certain reliefs in the wake of the unfortunate death of the then Registrar General of the High Court, the court filed a counter affidavit.

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Paragraph 13 of the counter affidavit contained allegations as though the writ petition was engineered, at the behest of the State Government, by a former Acting Chief Justice of the combined High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad, who now holds office as Chairman of the Fee Fixation Committee for professional colleges. Had it been filed by any other party, paragraph 13 would have provoked the High Court to come down heavily on such a party. It reads as follows: ‘13. As per the preliminary objections, it is clear that this petition is filed by a political person to political gain and to malign the High Court. In this sequel it is relevant that former Justice V. Eshwaraiah, who was appointed as chairman of the A.P. Higher Education Regulatory Committee and chairman of the BC Association, has also submitted a complaint with the same allegations to the President of India referred herein above against the Chief Justice. His appointment on the said post was made by the State Government as per the recommendation (September 4, 2019) issuing notification in the second week of September 2019. The said recommendation was after the recommendation to appoint a regular Chief Justice of High Court of Andhra Pradesh on August 22, 2019 by the collegium of the Supreme Court. Thus, his appointment is under persuasion of the State Government to favour him. On having achieved his desire of appointment after post retirement, he wants to support the State Government under the cover of BC Association maligning the High Court... In fact, the State government is not happily accepting the verdicts of the High Court given in various cases against them. ... however, unscrupulous comments degrading the image of the institution are floated in social media by various persons, including the sitting Member of Parliament, the Speaker of the Assembly on which suo motu contempt proceedings have been initiated. Therefore, in view of the preliminary objections and the above facts, filing of this petition is mala fide and to achieve the oblique intention.’

Editorial | Unpleasant spectacle

That the High Court, in a counter affidavit to a writ petition, can: attack the State Government as being hostile; attack a former Acting Chief Justice as the person behind a litigation, and attack the senior-most serving judge of the very same High Court for obliging the State Government and recommending the name of the former Acting Chief Justice for appointment as the Fee Fixation Committee, is unthinkable.

The statement now made by the Chief Minister that the High Court is being used and manipulated to trample on the democratically elected government has to be seen in the context of the High Court’s own stand in a counter affidavit filed in a writ petition that the State Government is hostile to the court.

Comment | A constitutional pickle of the Andhra kind

The issue did not end at that. In the writ petition, an application was filed by a subordinate judicial officer, who is now under suspension pending disciplinary proceedings, seeking intervention. In his intervention application, the judicial officer has claimed that the former Acting Chief Justice of the combined High court of Judicature at Hyderabad, whose name was dragged in by the High Court in its counter affidavit, made a call to him offering help in the departmental enquiries pending against him.

The intervention application was accompanied by the transcript of the telephonic conversation he purportedly had. According to this transcript, the former Acting Chief Justice confessed to him that he had engineered the writ petition filed by the BC, SC, ST and Minority Student Federation.

Also read | Bar Council condemns A.P. CM for ‘targetting’ judges

‘Hold an inquiry’

After the filing of this intervention application by the suspended judicial officer, the case took an interesting turn. The High Court filed an application for deletion of paragraph 13 of the original counter affidavit, in which the court had alleged that the writ petition was engineered by the former Acting Chief Justice at the behest of the State government.

Thereafter, a Division Bench specially constituted for the purpose took note of the contents of the intervention application and passed an order on August 13, 2020 holding that the conversation whose transcript was produced as a document along with a pen drive, prima facie disclosed a conspiracy against the Chief Justice of the High Court and the senior most Judge of the Supreme Court. After so holding, the Andhra Pradesh High Court passed an order to the following effect: ‘In view of the law discussed above in various judgments referred supra, this court while exercising power of judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, more particularly, while deciding a public interest litigation, procedural technicalities will not come in the way. Hence, we find that it is a fit case to order enquiry to find out the authenticity/genuineness of the conversation contained in the pen drive. Therefore, we request Justice R.V. Raveendran, retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, to hold an inquiry to find out the authenticity/genuineness of the conversation, contained in the pen drive, with regard to the plot designed against the Chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh and being designed against senior most sitting judges of the Supreme Court and undisclosed interest of third parties. Registry is directed to obtain the consent of Justice R.V. Raveendran, retired judge of Supreme Court and provide necessary assistance. The inquiry is limited to find out the authenticity/genuineness of the conversation and third party interest behind the plot.’

Also read | Advocates slam Jagan Mohan Reddy’s letter to CJI

It is clear that all is not well with the higher judiciary in the State of Andhra Pradesh. The letter of the Chief Minister of the State cannot be seen in isolation and it cannot be brushed aside as interference with the independence of the judiciary.

Krishna Prasanna Vaitla is a law student

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:29:48 PM |

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