The Collapsing Judicial System of Andhra Pradesh
In an unprecedented move, the Chief Minister has alleged Supreme Court judge Justice N.V. Ramana of interfering in high court proceedings and urged Chief Justice S.A. Bobde to ensure that the State’s judicial neutrality is maintained. But, contrary to popular belief the incident was not a one-off thing, but rather an outcome of a plethora of questionable decisions made by the judiciary and the government of Andhra Pradesh. What do these actions spell out at large:
The incidents that took place
1. The Dammalapati Srinivas FIR-
Andhra’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) filed an FIR against former Advocate General Dammalapati Srinivas in connection with a land scam in Amravati. The agency filed an FIR after reports suggesting that Srinivas had prior knowledge of the exact location of the capital region and had allegedly reaped rich benefits by buying prime land involving his close associates. He had acquired land between June 2014 and December 2014 for his associates and purchased back some of the land for himself.
The land scam is a classic example of corruption amongst the highest dignitaries and by the people holding power . Additionally, the scam involved the Advocate General instated by the TDP government, who was subsequently removed when YSR came to power. The party rivalry laid the foundation for the feud.
2. Media Gag Order
The Andhra Pradesh High Court was criticized for an order on 15th September, gagging the media from reporting the contents of the FIR registered by the ACB. Other than the claim of the petitioner that the case was “foisted” due to political vendetta, there were no substantial reasons for such an order.
The order compromises the right of the public to know what the charges are, more so because they were made against a person who held an important office and because the issue involves alleged pecuniary benefit. On occasion, reasonable restrictions can be imposed by law. However, courts cannot invent reasons for placing such restrictions without valid grounds laid down under the law, especially those likely to affect the sovereignty of the country. The ability of media to function without interference is a pillar for any democracy, and curbing this right is an attack on Balancing free press, free trial, and integrity of judiciary.
3. CM’s plea to CJI
In a letter addressed to Chief Justice Bobde, Mr. Jagan alleged that Supreme Court judge Justice N.V. Ramana had been influencing the sittings of the High Court, through judges, and cited instances of how matters important to the Opposition, had been ‘allocated to a select few’.
Stating that the beneficiaries of the judgments of the High Court were the politicians of the TDP, Mr. Jagan said that Justice Ramana was a legal adviser and additional advocate-general in the previous government helmed by TDP.
Given the above, the Chief Minister urged the Chief Justice of India to consider initiating steps to ensure that the State’s judicial neutrality was maintained.
If the allegations hold, the interference of a sitting Supreme Court Judge in high court proceeding severely undermines the judicial autonomy of the different levels of the court. Moreover, judgment being affected by personal political vendetta attacks the basic principles of our division of power amongst the three government organs, thus providing the legislature with a hold on the judiciary.
Also, TDP and YSR are not only state rivals, they could become future alliance partners, with speculations of YSR joining the NDA. Both parties will combat to have an upper hand in the alliance and a stronger presence in the Lok Sabha. This will surely leave a lasting impact on the already terse rivalry both at the state and central level.
These developments in Andhra Pradesh are not just regional. If this continues, the country could face great internal political turmoil. Media and judiciary form two of the four pillars of democracy, and a table without two legs never stands. Curbing freedom of media and blatantly abusing judicial autonomy can in the long run possibly affect our country’s democratic structure. In the absence of an innately credible justice system, rule of law itself becomes illusionary`.