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SC stays Andhra HC media gag order in Amaravati land scam
New Delhi, November 25, 2020
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the Andhra Pradesh High Court order restraining the media from reporting an FIR registered by the state police in the Amaravati land case issue allegedly involving a former Advocate General and daughters of a senior Supreme Court judge.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan and comprising Justices R. Subhash Reddy and M. R. Shah also requested the High Court not to finally decide on the matter of former Advocate General Dammalapati Srinivas and others, before the top court adjudicates it.
The top court's order came on the plea of the Andhra Pradesh government challenging the High Court interim order passed on September 15.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Andhra Pradesh government, described the High Court order as unprecedented and argued that such an interim order should not have been passed at all.
He also cited certain facts about the scam to show various transactions allegedly involving the former advocate general and others. "Should such a complaint be investigated or not? This is the simplest question here," he submitted.
The top court said it is satisfied that the matter requires consideration.
"Issue notice. Notice is not being issued to respondent no. 5 (Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister) in view of the fact that the High Court had not issued notice to respondent no. 5. Respondent No.1 (Srinivas) having appeared on caveat no notice be issued to Respondent no. 1," said its order.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the former Advocate General, submitted that his client had appeared in many criminal cases pending against the present Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, and insisted the government wanted to destroy the reputation of his client. He added that the state government has targeted his client and its conduct reeks of mala fide. Senior advocate Harish Salve also represented Srinivas.
Dhavan rebutted, asking how can an investigation be stopped at the threshold. Noting that the complaint was dated September 7, an inquiry took place and then the FIR was filed, he said that the other parties moved the High Court prematurely.
After a detailed hearing in the matter, the bench posted the matter for further hearing in the last week of January.
It has also allowed Srinivas to file a counter-affidavit within four weeks.
The High Court, in its September 15 order, had said: "It is further directed that the news in regard to registration of FIR or in the context of the said FIR shall not be made public in any electronic, print or social media, to foist the office of a former Advocate General and also with respect to the other alleged accused persons." The top court has stayed this direction.
The FIR was filed by the Andhra Pradesh Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) in the alleged land scam case on the accusations made by Komatla Srinivasa Swamy Reddy on Srinivas and several other people for abusing their official position to buy land in Amaravati before it was officially announced as the capital by the then Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP government.
According to the FIR, the preliminary investigation allegedly revealed that it is a case of abusing the official position by Srinivas and thereby obtaining of pecuniary advantage in the form of landed properties for his father-in-law, brother-in-law and his associates/acquaintances from June 2014 to December 2014 and later obtaining such pecuniary advantage for himself and his wife through purchase of some of these properties in the years 2015 and 2016.