SC refuses out of turn listing of plea by Chandrababu Naidu in development scam
The investigation against Naidu centres around a scheme that allegedly diverted government funds intended for a skill development project into various shell companies through fraudulent invoices
The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea for an out of turn listing of the petition filed by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu for quashing of the case filed against him by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) in the alleged ₹371 crore alleged development scam.
Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud asked senior counsel Sidharth Luthra, representing Naidu, to mention seek a date of hearing after following the norms.
“Mention it tomorrow. It has to come in the mentioning list. Please, come tomorrow,” the CJI replied after Luthra sought an early date of hearing citing Naidu’s custody since September 8.
Justice Chandrachud added that he cannot entertain the plea since it was not there in the list of mentioning matters.
According to the guidelines, a case can be mentioned for fixing a date of hearing only after it finds a place in a list prepared by the concerned registrar, who in turn is guided by the regulations laid down for assignment of dates for different categories of cases.
A day after the Andhra Pradesh high court junked his plea to nix the first information report (FIR) in the case, Naidu had moved the court on Saturday and termed his arrest an instance of “regime revenge and political vendetta”.
The high court had in its order noted that the investigation was at the “fulcrum of completion” and that no prior approval was required to probe Naidu’s alleged role in the matter.
Naidu, in his appeal before the top court, said that he was suddenly named in the FIR registered over 21 months ago.
“The Petitioner was arrested in an illegal manner and deprived of his liberty motivated only by political reasons and even though there is no material against him, the petitioner is being made to suffer through an illegal motivated investigation, in clear violation of his fundamental right to fair investigation,” said the plea.
It further contended that Naidu has been illegally put to custody in the FIR “as an orchestrated campaign of regime revenge and to derail the largest opposition in the state, the TDP” because assembly elections were round the corner and he had started conducting rallies and having mass public contact programmes at various places in the state.
“The Andhra Pradesh CID is acting at the behest of the ruling party in order to hurt the petitioner’s party’s chances in the state election due early next year in a clear example of regime revenge. The CID is threatening the officers and others to implicate the Petitioner, his family and the Party,” read the petition, filed through advocate Guntur Pramod Kumar.
The petition further emphasised that mandatory approval under Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act was necessary before the initiation of the enquiry and the registration of the FIR against him since all the alleged acts in the case were relatable to the decisions taken by him in discharge of his official duties as Chief Minister.
“The fact is that the very registration of the FIR was barred by Section 17-A of the Prevention of Corruption Act as it related to official acts of public servants named therein, as has been held by this Hon’ble Court. The FIR being barred under Section 17-A, the arrest, remand and consequent actions must fall,” it added.
The present scenario of regime revenge and political vendetta is exactly what Section 17-A seeks to restrict by protecting innocent persons, claimed Naidu, adding the initiation of investigation without such approval vitiates the entire proceedings since inception and the same is a jurisdictional error.
The investigation against Naidu centres around a scheme that allegedly diverted government funds intended for a skill development project into various shell companies through fraudulent invoices, which did not correspond with the delivery of services. He was arrested and later remanded to judicial custody in the matter on September 10.
In its order on last Friday, the high court said that no case for an interference with the proceedings was made out when the probe in the case was at the fulcrum of attaining finality. “Investigation in so far as petitioner is concerned, it is at nascent stage, and at this stage, this court should not interfere with the proceedings in a petition under Section 482 CrPC,” the high court said, noting that it cannot conduct a mini-trial.
It added that since the former CM’s alleged actions are unconnected with his official duties or functions, the requirement of prior approval under Section 17-A is inapplicable.