The Supreme Court on Monday held that directions for inquiry were not warranted from the Andhra Pradesh High Court against its former judge V. Eswaraiah into alleged “phone call conspiracy” against Supreme Court and High Court judges.
A two-judge bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice R. Subhash Reddy noted that regarding the conversation the petitioner had filed an affidavit before this court admitting the conversation and also filed the corrected transcript of the English translation of the audiotapes. “We see no reason to allow to continue the inquiry by Justice R.V. Raveendran as directed by the High Court by the said judgment.
Authenticity and genuineness of the transcript having been admitted to the extent as contained in Annexure P-16, we are of the view that the direction by the High Court calling the report from Justice R.V. Raveendran need not be allowed to continue,” noted the Apex Court in its order.
The court further said that the question before the High Court was only with regard to the maintainability of the writ petition. “We are of the view that the High Court ought not to have embarked on any other inquiry in the matter except to the maintainability of the PIL at the instance of the writ petitioner and the conversation held on July 20, 2020 filed before the High Court as well as the inquiry report sought was only with the above purpose,” said the Court.
The Supreme Court also noted in its order that if the High Court intends to refer to the English Translation of the transcript, the same can be only done after giving an opportunity to the present petitioner, Justice V. Eswaraiah.
“We have not issued notice in the special leave petition neither have entered into the merits of the writ petition, nor expressing any opinion on the maintainability of the writ petition PIL No 168 of 2020, it is for the High Court to proceed with these and decide the same, including the maintainability of the PIL, after hearing arguments on which point the orders were reserved,” noted by the Apex Court while disposing of the matter.
The Supreme Court on February 22, had reserved its judgment on a petition filed by retired Andhra Pradesh HC judge Justice V. Eswaraiah against the High Court order to investigate private phone conversation between him and suspended AP District Munsif Magistrate, plotting a serious conspiracy against the AP Chief Justice and a senior sitting Supreme Court judge, thereby to destabilize the judiciary.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court in August last year, had ordered an investigation into the recording of an alleged private conversation in which a former Chief Justice of that high court had levelled allegations of misconduct against a sitting Supreme Court judge and high Court judge. The division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court had ordered the inquiry, under the supervision of former Supreme Court judge, Justice RV Raveendran.
The bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice R. Subhash Reddy said that it will consider Eswaraiah’s request to set aside the HC’s order considering that it has made serious observations against him without issuing notice or hearing him.
At the hearing, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for an intervenor, said that a table has been made of the conversations that the judge admits and that which he does not admit.
Senior Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for Justice Eswaraiah, said the HC was hearing a case relating to Covid issues and a district magistrate filed an intervention application in which he annexed a pen drive and later leaked the conversation to the media.
Bhushan argued, “There is no criminal conspiracy in the conversation. Even if one goes through the transcript filed by the district magistrate, there is nothing to show that a crime has been committed. If an inquiry is to be conducted then a complete inquiry must be conducted into the transactions also.”
Advocate Sibal intervened saying the transcript may be edited. Bhushan objected, “How can he say that being an intervenor and appearing for some advocate?”
Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for an intervenor, submitted that the affidavit filed by Justice Eswaraiah which says that certain parts of the transcript may not be correct or edited itself makes his case worse because there has to be a complete transcript.
Advocate Bhushan insisted the bench set aside the HC’s order on the ground that the same was passed without hearing him, and without giving him any notice of the proceedings. Upon which, the bench said that it will consider the point and had reserved the order.
Meanwhile, the petitioner submitted that a backward class organization had filed a PIL seeking an investigation into violation of Covid-19 guidelines in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh which led to the death of a Registrar General belonging to the backward class community and an assistant belonging to scheduled tribe community.
During the pendency of the petition, a suspended District Munsif Magistrate of Andhra Pradesh filed an intervention application in which he annexed the recording of a private conversation between the petitioner and him, which was about many things including this petition in the High Court as well as the misconduct of a sitting Judge of the Apex Court.
In the conversation, the petitioner had mentioned his knowledge about the misconduct of the Supreme Court Judge and had asked the District Munsif Magistrate if he had any more information about this misconduct. On the above intervention, the High Court without even issuing notice to the petitioner, proceeded to order an inquiry into the conversation on the basis that the conversation discloses a conspiracy to malign the chief Justice of Andhra Pradesh, a sitting Judge of this Hon’ble court and thus amounts to a plot against the judiciary.
The petitioner had in fact publicly spoken about the misconduct of the sitting Judge of the Hon’ble court and his nexus with the erstwhile Government (the then Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu) and he was privy to various facts regarding this misconduct.
In fact, the misconduct which he was talking about was the subject matter of an inquiry by the cabinet subcommittee regarding dubious property transactions for unlawful gain, also involving the said sitting Supreme Court Judge and other public servants at the helm of affairs in the erstwhile Government in Andhra Pradesh.
This conspiracy was the subject matter of an FIR dated 05.09.2020 which names Sri Dammalapati Srinivas, formerly Additional Advocate General and Advocate General, and other accused including two daughters of the sitting Supreme court Judge.
Under these circumstances, the petitioner has submitted that it was legitimate for the petitioner to seek any further information about the misconduct of the Judge from anyone who might be privy to such information. It is further submitted that terming such a conversation to be some sort of a criminal conspiracy to destabilize the judiciary which needs an investigation is totally unwarranted.
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The petitioner had contended that the High Court has erroneously held that the petitioner seeking more information, regarding a fact that is already in the public domain and under investigation by the Government and further is the subject matter of an FIR, would amount to a conspiracy to malign the judges concerned or a plot against the judiciary.