Supreme Court Refuses To Restrain Trial Judge From Hearing CID Plea For Police Custody Of Chandrababu Naidu
After the recusal of Supreme Court Judge Justice SVN Bhatti from hearing the petition of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu seeking quashing of his FIR in the skill development scam case, Naidu's lawyers mentioned the matter before the Chief Justice of India for urgent listing.CJI DY Chandrachud agreed to list the matter on October 3 (the next working day for the...
After the recusal of Supreme Court Judge Justice SVN Bhatti from hearing the petition of former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu seeking quashing of his FIR in the skill development scam case, Naidu's lawyers mentioned the matter before the Chief Justice of India for urgent listing.
CJI DY Chandrachud agreed to list the matter on October 3 (the next working day for the Supreme Court). The CJI further orally told Naidu's lawyer that the Court will not restrain the trial judge from hearing the application filed by the Andhra Pradesh Crime Investigation Department (CID) for police custody of Naidu in the meantime.
The petition was initially listed before a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti. However, as soon as the matter was taken, Justice Khanna said, "My brother has some reservations about hearing the matter." It may be noted that Justice Bhatti hails from the state of Andhra Pradesh.
After Justice Bhatti's recusal, the matter was mentioned by Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra before CJI DY Chandrachud.
Since the matter was listed before the Supreme Court, Naidu's lawyers did not press his bail application before the trial court, Luthra stated. However, he added, since the judge recused from hearing, the petitioner was now in a predicament as the CID will in the meanwhile press the police custody application.
He argued that the FIR was unsustainable in law as no prior sanction as per Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act was obtained before registering it.
"They're seeking police custody. That's the kind of thing that is happening. There is a legal bar under 17A", he said.
He further alleged that the police custody was being sought because of the upcoming elections. He argued–
"From 8th September this man has been picked up illegally, he has been detained. Police custody was granted for two days. Now they want police custody for 15 days. They're roping him in FIR after FIR only because election is coming up."
Additionally, he asserted that there existed a jurisdictional bar in the matter as per Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Section 17A stipulates a mandatory requirement for a Police Officer to seek previous approval of the competent authority for conducting any enquiry/investigation into any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant while discharging his duties. In this context, Luthra said–
"17A goes to the root of the matter. This man cannot be kept in custody in an FIR which could not have been.. Please see 17A of PC Act. No police station can take any action against a public servant acting in discharge of his duties without permission from competent authority".
Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the State of AP, contended that the case involves a scam worth crores of rupees and that it pertains to the period before the 2018 amendment which introduced Section 17A.
CJI said that he will list the matter before a bench on October 3.
"My lords may consider one thing...today the issue is that the State is pressing the police custody. Let them not press the police custody", Luthra urged. He added that police custody cannot be sought after the first 15 days of arrest as per the proviso to Section 167(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
However, the CJI remarked–
"We will not restrain the trial judge from dealing with this."
The matter has now been listed for October 3, 2023.
Naidu has filed a special leave petition challenging an order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court last week declining to quash a first information report (FIR) arraigning the ex-chief minister as one of the accused in the skill development scam. Naidu was arrested in connection with this case on September 9 by the state’s crime investigation department and has been in custody since.
Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party president and erstwhile Andhra Pradesh chief minister, has been arrested in connection with a skill development scam in the state, with the state crime investigation department claiming to have prime facie evidence of the former chief minister’s key role in the alleged embezzlement of around Rs 371 crore from the Andhra Pradesh Skill Development Corporation through fictitious companies during the TDP's rule between 2014 and 2019. He is the 37th accused in a 2021 FIR related to the multi-crore scam involving the state skill development corporation.
The opposition Telugu Desam Party leader was arrested by the Andhra Pradesh CID on September 9 and has remained in custody since. Subsequently, a Vijayawada court remanded Naidu to police custody for September 23 and 24. On Sunday, Naidu’s judicial remand was extended till October 5.
Last week, the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed Naidu’s plea for quashing of the FIR. In his petition, he argued that the trial court’s order remanding him to custody did not consider that the CID had failed to obtain prior approval from the governor, as required by Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act. However, a bench of Justice K Sreenivas Reddy ruled that prior sanction from the competent authority was unnecessary for the investigation since the use of public funds, allegedly for personal gain, did not constitute an act in the discharge of official duties. The court also agreed that given the seriousness of economic offences, the investigation should not be hindered, especially at this early stage.
Challenging this ruling, the TDP leader has approached the Supreme Court in a special leave petition.