Amaravati land scam: Supreme Court lifts Andhra Pradesh high court’s media gag order
The Supreme Court vacated the media gag order passed by the Andhra Pradesh high court in the Amaravati land scam case involving relatives of a senior Supreme Court judge and the former advocate general Dammalapati Srinivas.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Ashok Bhushan issued a notice on the state’s plea against the stay on the investigation, media gag and coercive action against Srinivas passed by the Andhra Pradesh high court on September 15.
The high court had stayed further investigation in the matter and ordered a media gag on reporting the contents of the FIR registered against Srinivas and 12 others allegedly involved in the scam.
The Supreme Court bench did not disturb the stay on the investigation or coercive action, but vacated the media gag by saying, “Meanwhile following direction shall remain stayed—news with regard to contents of FIR to be not made public in electronic or print media as regards petitioner and other accused.”
The apex court directed Srinivas to file a response and posted the matter for a hearing in the last week of January 2021.
Although Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy was also arrayed as a respondent in the special leave petition (as he was arrayed a party by Srinivas in the high court) the Supreme Court bench did not issue a notice to him.
The allegations pertained to purchase of lands by Srinivas and others at Amaravati after the state announced its plans to form the new capital there.
Soon after coming to power, Reddy formed a cabinet committee to probe irregularities in the allotment of land in Amaravati and recommended a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe on March 23 this year. In September, the state received a complaint on irregularities in land deals, following which the Andhra Pradesh Police held an enquiry and registered an FIR on September 15. The same day, the high court passed a stay order at Srinivas’ behest, which tied the state’s hands from proceeding further in this case.
Senior advocate Rajiv Dhavan appeared for the Andhra Pradesh government while Srinivas was represented by senior lawyers Harish Salve and Mukul Rohatgi. Srinivas alleged that the investigation against him was borne out of revenge as he had appeared as advocate general in several criminal cases pending against the current chief minister.
The FIR registered on September 15 accused Srinivas of abusing his official position and causing pecuniary losses to the state exchequer.
The FIR stated that between June 2014 and December 2014 some high-ranking public servants close to the then ruling government were privy to the information about the exact location of the future capital. Srinivas was one such officer.
The FIR stated Srinivas used this information to obtain pecuniary advantage in the form of highly valuable immovable property for himself and his wife through his acquaintances, associates and close relatives and thereby abused his official position. He served as advocate general from May, 2016 till May, 2019 and earlier served as additional advocate general from June 2014.
The FIR also said that Srinivas’s brother-in-law Nannapaneni Krishna Murthy acquired 16 immovable properties between July 2014 and December 2014 with a view to own prime property at Amaravati. Some plots were sold to Srinivas and his wife at almost the same rate at which they were bought the previous year, thereby making them a profit.
The FIR named 12 persons apart from Srinivas, including his relatives and associates . Two of the names—Nuthalapati Sritanuja and Nuthalapti Sribhuvana are the daughters of senior Supreme Court judge, justice NV Ramana.
HT contacted Justice Ramana’s office, but he was not available for comment.
Andhra Pradesh municipal administration and urban development minister Botsa Satyanarayana welcomed the stay granted by Supreme Court on the Andhra Pradesh high court’s gag order.
“The stay order was on expected lines and was not a surprising, as we know justice is on our side,” the minister said.
He said that right from the beginning, the Andhra Pradesh government only wanted a thorough investigation into the case. “We opposed the high court’s order gagging the media and stalling the investigation into the case. Several intellectuals, too, questioned the propriety of such an order,” he pointed out.
He said it was unfortunate and wrong on the part of the high court to issue such an order, which had never happened in the past. “Now, the Supreme Court, too, endorsed our view. It clearly said the gag order was not correct and that the probe should go on,” the minister said.
Botsa said Constitution of India did not discriminate between common man and influential people in justice delivery. “We shall abide by the Constitution (in conducting investigation into the scam). Law will take its own course,” he asserted.
(With inputs from Srinivasa Rao Apparasu)