Sunday, December 6, 2020

Whether condemning Jagan’s complaint without probe enhances prestige of judiciary?

  • CJI has to appoint a committee to probe the allegations in the letter
  • Advocates in Delhi attack CM while defending judge
Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu

Some luminaries are hailing the complaint of the Chief Minister of AP as a courageous move seeking accountability of the institution. Some considered it as unwise as it would fire back at him. And some jurists, advocates and former judges are criticising it as an attempt to blackmail the judiciary as he was facing the criminal charges.

We should look to what exactly did he ask for? He did not say the judges should be transferred or the writ petitions should be taken out of Andhra Pradesh. His concluding sentence is this:

“In my respectful view, the subject matter may be looked into by your esteemed goodselves to consider initiating such steps as may be considered (sic) fit and proper, to ensure that the State judiciary’s neutrality is maintained. Further material if any, corroborative of the above contents and the enclosed annexures, shall be made available by me to your esteemed institution to substantiate the above.”

CM is cautious enough in not seeking an inquiry or penalty. He did not ask for impeachment of any. He is assuring to submit any material if he findsabout neutrality or otherwise. Seeking an appropriate consideration and proper steps cannot be viewed as a contemptuous action or defamatory allegation. To consider whether an inquiry  needed is the minimum and legitimate expectation from the highest authority of judiciary.  By disproving the allegations in an appropriate forum, they enhance not only the prestige of judiciary but also that of Justice N.V. Ramana and the judges of AP High Court.

Dozens of criminal cases against Jagan

As an accused in dozens of criminal cases, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s future or career is totally dependent on judicial institutions. This kind of complaint will surely antagonize the Judiciary at all levels including that of apex court. Jagan’s complaint and its exposure to media without waiting for the response of the CJI, might have already created a bad blood between his government and judiciary. If some one says he did this to blackmail cannot convince any sane person. Now he is totally at the mercy of the judiciary. Jagan has gambled everything by writing this letter. See Also:Is there any workable procedure to complain against judges?

His cases, ensuing trials, his good and bad decisions, the pending writ petitions about them, his vindictive politics against most strategic leader like Chandrababu Naidu who has enormous support from media, judiciary, political circles, his aggressive attitude in the backdrop of the letter need to be considered before judging his letter. At the same time the real estate interests of Chandrababu Naidu’ party in deciding Amaravati as the capital of Andhra Pradesh, the controversial aspects of pooling of land, allegedly by the consent of the farmers, possessing huge amount of land much beyond the need of capital building should also be considered before condemning Jagan’s policies including on capital city. Taking a political stand by supporting of either of the parties will end up in animosities and partisan conclusions. There are a number of situations where neither Telugu Desham nor YSR Congress are correct.

Naidu built strategic relations with Judiciary

Chandrababu Naidu is known for building strategic relations with judiciary, introducing persons who are close to him personally into higher institutions with the support of Venkaiah Naidu at Delhi BJP circles. Presence of judges appointed during the rule of Telugu Desam on supporting opinion of the long-standing Chief Minister, Naidu of combined and separate state of AP is an important factor to be noted. It is not correct and reasonable to establish whether or not they wielded influence, without examination of the allegations.

When Saneevaiah complained to Lal Bahadur Shastry

Without taking a comprehensive view of all such circumstances, it is wrong to condemn the complaint or accept as a gospel truth. The complaint must be probed into.  It is not a crime to complain against judiciary. The SC rules say any person can file a complaint either to President or CJI. Here is a document which shows the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Damodaram Sanjeevaiah, has made such a complaint to the Union Minister Lal Bahadur Shastry in 1961.

It is not only in social media, but everywhere, the people and associations are taking a side either to support or blame. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s complaint against sitting judge of Supreme Court has provoked the Advocate groups to pass resolutions condemning the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and praising Justice N. V. Ramana. An advocate took it as an individual responsibility to file Public Interest Litigation against the chief minister for his principal advisor’s press conference revealing the contents of the complaint. He wants that should be kept secret, and disclosure according to him is a punishable crime. Wonderful!

The PIL by an advocate in SC

This PIL was filed on behalf of Sunil Kumar Singh, a practicing lawyer, through Advocate on Record Mukti Singh, the plea seeks a stop on such press briefings by the chief minister against judges and to issue “show cause notice” to him as to why suitable action should not be taken against him. These two advocates believe that it is an attempt to tarnish the Majesty of the Highest court of the country, the plea states that the Press Conference by the Chief Minister’s advisor made unsubstantiated allegations against an honourable judge of this Hon’ble court. This advocate believed that Reddy has “crossed the limit” which has been prescribed by the Constitution.

His contention is interesting. He says: “….alleging corruption and bias is prohibited by the clear provisions and mandate of the Constitution of India as provided under Article(s) 121 and 211 of the Indian Constitution. Wherein it has been mandated by the Constitution that no discussion shall take place in Parliament or in state legislature with respect to the conduct of any judge of Supreme Court or the High Court in the discharge of his duty”This wonderful advocate perhaps missed to understand that this is an exception only for legislators on their absolute freedom within the legislative house.” 

Then the PIL attacks the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. This advocate contended that freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution is subject to reasonable restrictions in relation to contempt of courts and defamation. He concludes for the sake of this PIL that Jagan has committed either defamation and or contempt. On this fantastic standard created by this advocate he should have considered that this petition is also defamatory of a chief minister.

Respecting Constitution, respecting judiciary

One plea is that the chief minister is under oath and allegiance of the Constitution and is thus bound by it to respect the Judiciary. According to this petitioner, respecting Constitution means respecting the judiciary, another fantastic preposition.  He did not hesitate to exhibit his wisdom that as the country is undergoing socio-economic challenge and external disturbance, CM should have not given irresponsible statement through which ‘he is trying to destabilise the faith of public at large in system which is not permitted’. (https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/breaking-confidence-of-people-in-judiciary-at-stake-plea-in-sc-against-andhra-govts-press-conference-accusing-justice-nv-ramana-and-hc-judges-164349?infinitescroll=1]

It is fundamental in a rule of law that the allegations of any person more so of a chief minister need to be examined.  Disprove it and leave it. The scheme of receiving complaints and handling them is announced by Supreme Court, which has to be followed and CM’s complaint has to be responded to. Another basic lesson is giving a complaint to appropriate authority is neither defamation nor contempt of court. Disclosing the contents of complaint perhaps may amount to both. Then this practicing advocate is expected to know that he should approach attorney general for filing a contempt complaint and if it is defamatory, it is none of his business, but the concerned defamed judge has to take it up.

This PIL brings down the respect and confidence of the people in the PIL, which revolutionised the legal remedies in India and upheld the constitutional mechanism to provide answers to violation of rights. Its pathetic.

Then we have seen the resolutions of advocate bodies. They condemned the letter written by the chief minister. Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association has every right to praise any judge or criticise any person including any judge or any chief minister.

SC Advocates praise judge, condemn CM

The Association has issued a statement condemning the CM’s letter, saying that the act of circulating such a letter in the media “lacks propriety” and scandalizes the Court. It says: “SCAORA notes, with deep anguish, the contents of the letter dated 06.10.2020, written by a chief minister to Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, concerning a sitting Judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India next in line to become the Chief Justice of India. The SCAORA condemns the act of the unwarranted release of the said letter on 10.10.2020 in a press conference, to be lacking in propriety and not in accord with the High Office of the Constitutional functionary involved, as it tends to scandalise and breach the independence of the judiciary.”

This resolution was passed unanimously by the Executive Committee of the Association on October 13.(https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/lacking-in-propriety-scaora-condemns-jagan-mohan-reddys-letter-regarding-justice-ramana-read-resolution-164457\)

There is another resolution to be considered, which says: “The Delhi High Court Bar Association…. unequivocally, categorically and in strongest possible terms, condemns the allegations cast upon Hon’ble Justice NV Ramana.”

The letter of Jagan Mohan Reddy alleged that since the new government undertook an inquiry into the actions of Naidu during his 2014-2019 regime, it was now clear, that a sitting Supreme Court judge “started influencing the course of administration of justice in the State, through the Chief Justice…”

DHBA further wrote: “…writing and circulation of the ill-founded letter dated 06.10.2020 written by Shri Jagan Mohan Reddy to Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, which unfairly and without any reason casts serious aspersions on the alleged conduct of Hon’ble Mr Justice N.V. Ramana, Judge, Supreme Court of India and Hon’ble Judges of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh, is an abject and an uncalled for interference in the due administration of justice.. The writing of the said letter and its circulation in public domain is clearly a dishonest attempt at overawing the independence of judiciary and tantamount to contempt of the Hon’ble court. “DHCBA has added that Justice Ramana, who is next-in-line to become the CJI, has been one of the most virtuous Judges with the highest level of integrity.

(https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/delhi-hc-bar-panel-condemns-jagan-mohan-reddys-allegations-against-justice-ramana/articleshow/78674425.cms)

It may be recalled that the Delhi High Court Bar Association (DHCBA) on 19th Feb 2020 requested the Supreme Court collegium to recall the move to transfer Justice S. Muralidhar from Delhi high court to Punjab and Haryana high court.

When DHCBA struck work in protest

The association also requested its members to abstain from work on 20 February as a token of protest as the transfer is a “rarest of rare” case. It said the “majesty of our revered institution is at stake.” The association expressed its shock, dismay, and outrage at the transfer of “one of the finest judges to have adorned the Bench- Hon’ble Dr Justice S. Muralidhar- by the collegiums of the Hon’ble Supreme Court”.  (https://theprint.in/talk-point/justice-muralidhar-transfer-lawyers-out-of-line-to-protest-against-judicial-appointments/368432/)

This association can protest and even abstain from work, which is real physical obstruction to work of several courts stopping hundreds of cases, but a chief minister should not even complain. The leaders of DHCBA should explain why stopping of entire work of High Court does not amount to hundreds of charges of Contempt of Court and how a letter could become contempt of court?

These Associations in their own wisdom have become judges and pronounced Jagan guilty and exhibited unconditional support to the Judges. None should jump into conclusion that allegations of Jagan Mohan Reddy are absolute truths or completely baseless to push them under carpet. These responsible associations should have thought about credibility and accountability of the institution before jumping into conclusions that the complaint was baseless. What is their capacity to pronounce such judgment on complaint without hearing all the sides? Why did they not form a fact-finding committee and study the situation if they are really interested in securing the institution?

In several cases in past, allegations against some judges were proved, but no action was taken. What kind of reply these associations of advocates could give to such a situation?

To increase the credibility of the highly respectful institution, judiciary, the complaint must be responded to. A properly constituted inquiry committee by the hon’ble CJI as per the declared rules, is required now.  This inquiry should not be like what was done to sexual harassment inquiry against the then Chief Justice of India.

(Writer Former Central Information Commissioner, and teacher of Law)

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Former Central Information Commissioner, and teacher of Law

2 COMMENTS

  1. The article is excellent and eloborative. As mentioned by the author there is a need to probe in to the matter. nobody is above the law. As Sri Prashanthbushan suggested retired supremecourt judges should be appointed as the members in the Committee to look in to the matter.

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