In setback to Chandrababu Naidu, Supreme Court says will not restrain trial judge
N Chandrababu Naidu’s petition came up before a bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti, but it wasn’t heard since justice Bhatti recused from the case
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to restrain a trial court from taking a call on Crime Investigation Department (CID)’s plea for custodial interrogation of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu in the alleged ₹371 crore alleged development scam even as it agreed to list his petition to quash the case on October 3.
“We will not restrain the trial judge from dealing with the application,” Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud told Naidu’s lawyer, senior counsel Sidharth Luthra, who complained that the state police was pressing for his client’s custody while his petition before the Supreme Court was yet to be heard. Naidu has been in judicial custody since September 9.
Earlier in the day, Naidu’s petition came up before a bench of justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti, but it could not be heard since justice Bhatti recused from considering the matter. Luthra then approached the CJI, seeking an urgent hearing before a different bench.
Luthra contended that Naidu has been in “illegal custody” since September 8 since there was no prior approval from the competent authority that was required under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act before naming him in a first information report (FIR).
He alleged that Naidu’s liberty had been curtailed out of political malice because assembly elections were around the corner and said it was a fit case where Naidu could have been put under house arrest since he was a Z-plus protectee.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Andhra Pradesh government, opposed any interference by the top court at this stage, pointing out that siphoning off of public money was involved in the matter.
The CJI, who is also the top court’s administrative head and assigns cases to different benches as the master of the roster, said that he will list the petition for a hearing before an appropriate bench on October 3. The top court is shut from September 28 to October 2.
Luthra pleaded for a protective order, underlining that CID has already sought Naidu’s custody for his custodial interrogation but the request was turned down by the CJI, who said the trial judge cannot be restrained like this.
The investigation against Naidu centres around allegations of diversion of government funds intended for a skill development project into various shell companies through fraudulent invoices, which did not correspond with the delivery of services. He was arrested and later remanded to judicial custody in the matter on September 10.
On September 23, Naidu approached the Supreme Court against the Andhra Pradesh high court order last week that refused to nix the first information report (FIR) in the case against him.
In its order on Friday, the high court said that since Naidu’s alleged actions were unconnected with his official duties or functions, the requirement of prior approval or sanction under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act was not applicable. The high court said there was no reason to interfere with proceedings when the probe in the case was at the fulcrum of attaining finality.
In his appeal, Naidu said that he was suddenly named in the FIR registered over 21 months ago.
“The petitioner was arrested in an illegal manner and deprived of his liberty motivated only by political reasons and even though there is no material against him, the petitioner is being made to suffer through an illegally motivated investigation, in clear violation of his fundamental right to fair investigation,” said the plea.
It further contended that Naidu was sent to jail custody in the FIR “as an orchestrated campaign of regime revenge and to derail the largest opposition in the state” because assembly elections were around the corner.
“The Andhra Pradesh CID is acting at the behest of the ruling party in order to hurt the petitioner’s party’s chances in the state election due early next year in a clear example of regime revenge. The CID is threatening the officers and others to implicate the Petitioner, his family and the Party,” said the petition, filed through advocate Guntur Pramod Kumar.
The petition further emphasised that mandatory approval under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act was necessary before the initiation of the enquiry and the registration of the FIR against him since all the alleged acts in the case were relatable to the decisions taken by him in the discharge of his official duties as CM.
Naidu said the police action against him due to political vendetta was sought to be restricted by Section 17-A which seeks to protect innocent persons, adding that the initiation of investigation without such approval vitiates the entire proceedings since inception and the same is a jurisdictional error.
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