Criticising the YS Jagan Mohan Reddy government for alleged infringement of fundamental rights of the people and blatantly attacking the judiciary, the Andhra Pradesh high court on Wednesday expressed dissent over the Supreme Collegium’s recommendation for the abrupt transfer of chief justice J K Maheshwari.
A division bench headed by justice Rakesh Kumar made the comments in disposing of a petition filed by the state government asking the judge to recuse himself from a case pertaining to the sale of government lands under a scheme called Mission Build AP to raise funds for social welfare schemes.
Justice Kumar, who will be retiring on Thursday, directed the Registrar General of the high court to file a criminal case against senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Praveen Kumar, special officer of Mission Build AP, for wrongly attributing some comments to the judge that he said he had never made.
In an affidavit filed on December 16, the IAS officer expressed concern that Justice Kumar may be biased against the government and his continuance on the division bench could deprive it of a fair hearing. He quoted media reports as saying that the judge had made “unwarranted” comments on the alleged breakdown of constitutional machinery in the State.
Describing the allegations made by the IAS officer as false and malicious, justice Kumar said the affidavit was contemptuous and it amounted to interference in the discharge of judicial functions. He called for an explanation form the officer as to why he cannot be prosecuted for contempt of court and gave him six weeks’ time to reply.
In his 55-page judgement, justice Kumar referred to the criminal cases pending against the chief minister and recalled reports of how he allegedly misused power to force the police to withdraw cases against him.
He also referred to Jagan Reddy’s letter to Chief Justice of India (CJI) S A Bobde on October 6 that made allegations against Supreme Court judge N V Ramana, state high court chief justice J K Maheshwari and a few other judges and the ensuing leak of the letter to the media three days later.
He said the transfer of high court chief justice on December 14 would send a wrong message to the people.”… fact remains that he succeeded in getting undue advantage at the present moment (through the transfer of the high court CJ),” justice Kumar said.
There had been friction between justice Maheshwari, who took over as Andhra Pradesh chief justice in October 2019, and Jagan Reddy. In March, the high court put a spoke in the state government’s decision to paint panchayat buildings with the colours of the ruling party . A month later, the high court set aside Reddy’s decision to introduce English as the medium of instruction in government schools.
For months, the tussle between the government and judiciary in the state continued over several issues, finally reaching a flashpoint in September when the high court issued a gag order barring the media from reporting the contents of a first information report (FIR) in a land scandal in the city of Amaravati involving former advocate general Dammalapati Srinivas and daughters of a sitting Supreme Court judge, justice NV Ramana.
In October, Reddy wrote a letter to CJI Bobde, complaining that justice Ramana was trying to influence cases in the high court to destabilize his government.
Justice Kumar said that due to the transfer of the chief justice, the Jagan Reddy government was bound to get undue benefit, especially with regard to the hearings on petitions filed by poor farmers of Amaravati against the bills to create three Andhra Pradesh capitals. Amaravati had been designed the capital of Andhra Pradesh by Jagan Reddy’s predecessor N. Chandrababu Naidu.
“Now, the final hearing on the batch of petitions on Amaravati has been stopped. There is every likelihood that some time may be consumed in reconstitution of the Bench and thereafter from zero hearing in those cases may commence,” he said.
Justice Kumar also referred to criminal cases being dealt with by central agencies against Jagan Reddy.
“After the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice N V Ramana in September ordered speedy disposal of criminal cases pending against politicians, the Andhra police on September 23 closed seven or eight criminal cases against Jagan Mohan Reddy,” he pointed out.
Justice Kumar said the court was finding it difficult to protect the fundamental rights of citizens in Andhra Pradesh because of the violation of their rights. He referred to several Habeas Corpus petitions filed before the court following alleged illegal detentions. He recalled that in one such petition, he had even summoned the director general of police to the court on the enforcement of rule of the law in the state.
He defended the observations he made on Wednesday. “But since on the verge of my retirement, my impartiality has been questioned by the government of Andhra Pradesh on my face, in my defence, I was constrained to record above facts which may not be disputed. My only endeavour is to uphold the majesty of law,” justice Kumar said.
Government chief whip G Srikanth Reddy said it was unfortunate that the high court judge had made such observations against the state government on the verge of his retirement.
“It clearly shows he has recorded the comments in the judgement out of some personal grudge against the chief minister and the government. We don’t have anything personal against him, but such comments would only reflect badly on his credibility. I am afraid people may lose their faith on the judiciary with such personal comments against the chief minister,” Reddy said.