Monday, August 8, 2022

Supreme Court refuses to stay Andhra High Court order for probe into Eswaraiah phone tap

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The Supreme Court on Monday said it will not stay a ruling of the Andhra Pradesh High Court ordering 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. The judge in question is Justice V. Eswaraiah, and Monday’s decision came from the bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan.

While petitioner Justice Eswaraiah wanted the high court’s order stayed, Justice Bhushan asked petitioner’s advocate Prashant Bhushan to file an affidavit where it has to be admitted that the conversation did take place and should also mention what needs to change. “We’ll take it up then, and pass the order,” said the top court. 

In August, a division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court had ordered the inquiry, under the supervision of former Supreme Court judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran. 

In his argument before the Apex Court on Monday, Prashant Bhushan had asked:

“How can a private conversation be a matter of inquiry? What is the crime in having a private conversation, even when it pertains to a sitting judge? The high court erred in ordering the probe, as it was a private conversation.”

Justice Eswaraiah’s petition contended that the order passed by the high court erred in law as it was passed without hearing him and was based on an application of a suspended district munsif magistrate, the other party in the telephonic conversation.

Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for that magistrate, refuted arguments by Bhushan, saying there was nothing private about the conversation and that it was part of a motivated attack on the system which had to be probed. 

The court will hear the matter further on January 18.

Phone tapping controversy

In 2011, advocate Prashant Bhushan had hit the headlines after he filed a contempt petition against former Samajwadi Party leader, the late Amar Singh, over an alleged CD controversy. In the leaked CD, Amar Singh had allegedly disclosed a conversation between Prashant Bhushan’s father Shanti Bhushan and Mulayam Singh Yadav and also Amar Singh about fixing a judge for Rs 4 crore. Amar Singh had rebutted those contentions and had denied doctoring the CD which allegedly contained a conversation between him and Shanti Bhushan. Singh had said that Shanti Bhushan, who was co-chair of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, should give his voice sample for analysis.

Amar Singh had also threatened to file a suit for damages against Prashant Bhushan, who had allegedly claimed said that Amar Singh was the producer of the CD. 

The alleged conversation in the CD has Shanti Bhushan, a former Union law minister, promising Mulayam Singh that a judge could be influenced for a price and also suggesting that Prashant Bhushan will facilitate the “fixing”.

It is pertinent to mention here that in 2017 a complaint had been filed against Prashant Bhushan in the Bar Council of Delhi by Maj S.K. Punia (Retd.) for allegedly appearing on behalf of the organisations Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), Common Cause and Swaraj Abhiyan, as being against Clause 8 of the Standard of Professional Conduct and Etiquette under the Bar Council of India Rules. Clause 8 reads as follows:

“An Advocate shall not appear in or before any court or tribunal or any other authority for or against an organisation or an institution, society or corporation, if he is a member of the Executive Committee of such organisation or society or corporation. ‘Executive Committee’, by whatever name it may be called, shall include any committee or body of persons which, for the time being, is vested with the general management of the affairs of the organisation or institution, society or corporation.” 

Petitioner Maj Punia had also referred to an alleged leaked audio tape in which, the Major said, it was apparent that Prashant Bhushan’s father, Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan in 2011 had categorically stated:

Prashant PIL karte hain, us se kuch kamate hai. Dekhiye humne sab soch liya hai, ek he tarika hai. Prashant bahut achcha manage karte hain… iske liye bahut zyada paise ki zaroorat nahi hai, chaar crore rupaya bahut hai”.

The petitioner, in his plea, had said: 

Hence, Mr Shanti Bhushan is stating how Mr Prashant Bhushan does PILs for monetary gain and also manages the proceedings. This is gross abuse of the process of the Courts and is also interference in the Course of Justice. Prejudicing the Court proceedings is punishable under the Contempt of Courts Act and Indian Penal Code.” 

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It is only after the Complaint of Major SK Punia (Retd) before the Bar Council of Delhi (BCD), Advocate Prashant Bhushan has informed the Delhi Bar council through an affidavit that he has resigned from Governing Council of Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), Common Cause and Swaraj Abhiyan. 

The matter is still pending before the Bar Council of Delhi. 

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