SC orders Andhra MP arrested for sedition to be treated at army facility
The Supreme Court on Monday directed Member of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh, Kanmuri Raghurama Krishnam Raju, arrested on sedition charges, to be medically examined at the army hospital at Secunderabad and kept his bail plea for hearing on Friday.
Raju had approached the top court demanding examination at a neutral hospital after the Andhra Pradesh high court on Sunday directed him to appear before a medical board of three doctors working with the state government hospitals. Raju had moved a letter before the high court claiming to have been beaten and tortured by police in custody and even complained of cardiac issues having undergone a recent bypass surgery.
Although Raju is an MP representing the YSR Congress Party from Narsapuram constituency, he has been critical of the party leadership and the state government and even demanded cancellation of bail granted to CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in a corruption case. Last year, the Delhi high court ordered Y-category security cover for the MP in view of threats that followed his anti-party rant.
A vacation bench of the Supreme Court comprising justices Vineet Saran and BR Gavai directed that Raju be forthwith taken to army hospital at Secenderabad and be kept under medical care till further orders. The court directed the head of the army hospital to constitute a medical board of three doctors to examine the MP. A judicial officer nominated by the Chief Justice of the Telangana high court shall remain present during the examination, the top court directed. The cost of the treatment shall be borne by Raju.
The bench said, “Chief Secretary, Andhra Pradesh, is directed to carry out this order forthwith and ensure that the petitioner is taken to and reaches the Army Hospital, Secunderabad today itself…The proceedings of medical examination of the petitioner shall be video-graphed and be submitted to the Registrar General of the Telangana high court in a sealed cover for being transmitted to this Court.”
The court directed the period of stay at the hospital to be treated as “judicial custody” of the petitioner with a specific direction asking the armed guards provided to Raju under the Y-security cover not to remain inside the hospital or during his medical examination.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for Raju, told the top court that the case of sedition has been invoked as he was critical of the state government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis. Raju was arrested on May 14 and a day later, his bail plea was dismissed by the Andhra Pradesh high court on the ground that the same ought to be moved before the sessions court. The Crime Investigation Department (CID) has accused him of delivering hate speeches against certain communities and promoting disaffection against the government.
Raju has been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), namely section 124A (sedition), section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), section 505 (inciting any class or community of persons to commit any offence) read with section 120B (criminal conspiracy).
Rohatgi said his client required urgent medical attention after being beaten up in police custody. The senior counsel did not agree to get examined by the medical board comprising government doctors, one being a gynecologist whose husband heads the Legal Cell of the ruling party. He urged the court to consider shifting the accused MP to an army hospital in the state or All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the state government, objected to the accused being shifted to army hospital. Although the medical board had examined Raju, he was open to the suggestion that the accused be examined at the army hospital or even AIIMS, Mangalagiri, situated within the state. Citing the allegations of hate speech levelled against Raju, Dave said, “The kind of hate he is generating within the state is unimaginable.”
The court invited the Union government, not otherwise a party to the present proceedings, to know whether the petitioner’s medical examination could be performed at an army hospital. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for Centre and said, “We have no objection if the accused is taken to army hospital or brought to Delhi AIIMS.” However, he questioned why the army was being dragged into a political matter.
The bench clarified, “There is nothing political here.” To allay apprehensions of both the accused and state, the bench allowed a judicial officer to remain present while the examination is conducted. The bench allowed the state to respond to the bail plea and medical examination plea by Wednesday and posted the matter for hearing on Friday.
Meanwhile, Telangana-based media channel TV5 has also approached the Supreme Court, challenging the sedition charge against it by the Andhra Pradesh government. The channel has also been accused, along with YSR Congress MP Raghurama Krishnam Raju, of aiding him in making his hate speech in order to promote “disaffection” against the government.
Shreya Broadcasting Private Limited, the company that runs the channel, along with its executive editor, moved the top court through advocate Vipin Nair, demanding that the FIR against them to be quashed. Besides, the petition has also demanded setting aside the CID enquiry report forming the basis of the FIR and stay on any coercive action against the company, news channel or its employees.
The petition states, “The petitioners apprehend that the purpose of the mala fide FIR is to curb dissent in the state and cause a chilling effect on media houses.” Citing the alleged custodial torture meted out to Raju, the channel further stated, “Petitioners verily believe that if this court does not interject on an urgent basis, the petitioner shall be meted out the same treatment.”
In its May 14 FIR, the CID has alleged that the petitioner’s channel TV5 allotted “pre-mediated” and “organised” slots to MP Raghurama Krishnam Raju, which evinces a meeting of minds among the accused persons. The petitioner claimed that there is no criminality in allotting slots to a public figure and such action by the state violates the channel’s fundamental right to free speech.