Attorney General of India KK Venugopal on Monday declined a request to initiate contempt proceedings against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and his principal advisor Ajeya Kallam for making allegations about a sitting Supreme Court judge.
In a letter addressed to Chief Justice SA Bobde on October 6, Reddy had alleged that Supreme Court’s second-most senior judge NV Ramana had been influencing the sittings of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, including the roster of a few judges. Reddy also cited instances of how cases important to the Opposition Telugu Desam Party were “allocated to a few judges”.
On October 25, BJP leader and Supreme Court lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay had written to Venugopal about the matter. He had said the chief minister’s letter “scandalises” the authority of both the Supreme Court and the High Court. Upadhayay had also written that if this kind of precedent was allowed, political leaders would start making “reckless allegations” against judges.
Venugopal told Upadhyay that the chief justice is “seized of the matter” and well aware of the nature of allegations stated in the letter. The attorney general said the conduct of Reddy and Kallam was “prima facie contumacious [wilfully disobedient]”, but it would not be appropriate for him to deal with the matter.
“I am of the opinion that the timing itself of the letter as well as it being placed in the public domain through a press conference could certainly be said to be suspect, in the background of the order passed by Justice Ramana dated 16.09.2020,” Venugopal wrote.
Reddy’s letter was released after a bench headed by Ramana ordered proceedings against the chief minister in a disproportionate assets case. The bench was hearing a petition seeking fast-tracking of pending criminal cases against sitting and former lawmakers. On October 10, the very next day after the order was passed, the letter, dated October 6, was made public by Reddy’s principal advisor.
Venugopal in his reply also highlighted what Upadhyay had flagged, that the Andhra Pradesh chief minister is himself an accused in at least 31 cases concerning the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. These cases are pending before the Special Court in Telangana.
Venugopal also refused to grant permission to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against advocates Prashant Bhushan and Nilesh Ojha, who supported Reddy for writing the letter. A petition was filed by a man identified as Mursalin Shaikh. Bhushan, in a tweet, had demanded investigation and said the allegations against Ramana are serious. Ojha wrote an article, also calling for an inquiry in the matter.
“The act of respondent No. 2 and 3 is nothing but to instigate the common people and members of the Bar to lodge complaint against Judges of the higher judiciary,” Shaikh’s petition said.
Venugopal, however, said publishing tweets and articles supporting Reddy’s demand of investigation against Ramanna is not contempt.
Protests were launched by Bar Associations and former judges against Reddy for levelling such allegations against the top court judge in an “irresponsible manner”. The Supreme Court Bar Association also passed a resolution on October 16 condemning the letter. However, the body’s President Dushyant Dave has expressed his dissent against the resolution.
On October 17, Justice NV Ramana had said that judges should be “fearless in their decisions to withstand all pressures and odds” after the controversy. Ramana, next in line to become the chief justice of India, added that the greatest strength of the judiciary was the faith of the people in it.