Jagan govt withdraws appeal in SC in Amaravati land case, says will pursue matter in HC

Andhra govt had appealed stay issued by Andhra HC last year on a probe into a case related to alleged Amaravati land scam involving a former advocate general and daughters of current CJI.

File image of Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy | Photo: ANI
File image of Andhra Pradesh CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy | Photo: ANI

New Delhi: The Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government Thursday withdrew its appeal in the Supreme Court against a stay ordered by the Andhra Pradesh High Court on a probe into a case related to the alleged Amaravati land scam involving the state’s former advocate general and the daughters of N.V. Ramana, the current Chief Justice of India.

On 20 November last year, the Supreme Court had vacated the HC stay order issued on 15 September 2020 that, apart from restraining probe agencies from taking coercive action against those named in the FIR, had gagged the media from reporting on the case.

The stay order came on a petition filed by former advocate general, Dammalapati Srinivas.

When the Andhra government’s counsel sought permission from the Justice Vineet Saran-led bench in the Supreme Court to withdraw the appeal to pursue the matter in the high court again, Srinivas’s lawyer, senior advocate Siddhartha Luthra, noted the state had enjoyed the stay for almost eight months. Therefore, he added, a deadline should be fixed for the government to submit its written response in the HC.

Luthra also asked the bench to fix a time frame for the Andhra Pradesh HC to decide the matter. Giving a week’s time to the state for filing its rejoinder in the HC, the Supreme Court said the HC should conclude the hearing in the case preferably within four weeks.

The withdrawal comes three days after the top court upheld the high court’s order quashing a similar FIR filed in connection with the alleged land scam. A bench, also led by Justice Saran, on 19 July refused to set aside the high court order, rejecting Andhra counsel Mahfooz A. Nazik’s contention that the investigation in the matter was still on and there was a possibility of establishing a case of cheating with knowledge of wrongful loss read with the provisions under the Transfer of Property Act.

The prosecution in this case had alleged the private buyers bought plots of land because they had prior knowledge of the plan to set up the new capital in Amaravati. Without disclosing information on this fact, the buyers had allegedly purchased land from sellers, and therefore, cheated them, the FIR said.

Justifying the quashing order, the Supreme Court said the high court had appropriately delved into facts to ascertain whether a case was made out.

“…without considering the facts of the case, the question as to whether the allegations in the FIR or complaint prima facie constitute any offence or make out a case against the accused, cannot be decided,” the bench ruled.

Right to acquire property was held to be a legal and constitutional right by the high court, which the Supreme Court did not interfere with.

During Thursday’s hearing, Luthra said the 19 July Supreme Court order will have a bearing on the case involving Srinivas. He wanted the bench to call for the records of the case and adjudicate it in view of the 19 July order. The court, however, chose not to do so and allowed the proceedings in the high court to resume.

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Jagan-Amaravati controversy

All these FIRs related to the alleged Amaravati scam, including the one naming Srinivas, were filed in September 2020, six years after the deals happened in 2014-15.

The move was seen as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy waging a war against Justice Ramana, then a sitting Supreme Court judge whom he accused of corruption. Ramana is from Andhra Pradesh, and Reddy had alleged his “proximity” to Chandrababu Naidu, the CM’s rival and predecessor.

The FIR that primarily named Srinivas, who was the advocate general under Naidu’s regime, accused him of using his position’s influence to obtain prior information about the Amaravati plan and then purchase vast lands in the core region. Both of Justice Ramana’s daughters were also named among the illegal purchasers of the land.

Amaravati, located in Guntur district, was pitched as the state’s capital under the previous Telugu Desam Party (TDP) government. As CM, Naidu aimed to turn the cluster of green lands into a ‘world-class’ capital and a smart city on par with Singapore.

When Amaravati was announced as the capital, land prices in the region’s villages shot up.

Jagan Reddy, who was in the opposition at the time, had alleged that the Naidu government was involved in corruption in the name of building Amaravati.

When Reddy became CM in 2019, he ordered a probe and also set up a special investigation team in this regard. Further, to ensure decentralised development across the state, he announced a three-capital plan, cancelling Naidu’s ambitious Amaravati plan. However, this move was challenged in the high court, where it is still pending.

Meanwhile, Reddy levelled serious allegations against Justice Ramana, claiming he was in nexus with Naidu and was trying to topple the YSRCP government. He alleged that Justice Ramana had played a crucial role in swaying judicial appointments in the state courts, which according to Reddy, was done to swing decisions in favour of TDP leaders facing multiple corruption charges.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

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