28 Nov 2023 10:30 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Tuesday (November 28) issued notice in a plea by the State of Andhra Pradesh challenging the regular bail granted to N Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo and former chief minister of the state, in the skill development scam case. A bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Satish Chandra Sharma was hearing the State of Andhra Pradesh's special leave...
The Supreme Court on Tuesday (November 28) issued notice in a plea by the State of Andhra Pradesh challenging the regular bail granted to N Chandrababu Naidu, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo and former chief minister of the state, in the skill development scam case.
A bench of Justices Bela M Trivedi and Satish Chandra Sharma was hearing the State of Andhra Pradesh's special leave petition challenging an order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court last week granting regular bail to the Telugu Desam Party president. Naidu was arrested in connection with this case on September 9 by the state crime investigation department and was in custody till he was directed to be released on bail.
Although the bench today adjourned the proceedings until after the delivery of the judgment in Naidu's plea seeking the quashing of the first information report (FIR) in this case, it agreed to issue notice.
Not only this, Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the state government, urged the court to extend the bail conditions initially imposed on Naidu by the high court. "No statement should be made in the public domain about this case," the senior counsel said.
Naidu's counsel, however, alleged that officers of the department are still continuing to make public statements with reference to issues that are pending before the top court. "If there has to be a restraint, it ought to apply to both sides," he argued.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi vehemently objected. "Restraint applies to an accused, it can't apply to the government.”
Rohatgi called for notice to be issued instead of a mere deferment of the hearing. "According to us, notice should be issued. There are findings on merit in a 40-page bail order...I'll have to show findings in a bail order! And this is a case of diversion of 300 crores from public funds," he told the court.
Not only did the court accede to the Andhra Pradesh government's request to issue notice, but it also directed the continuation of a bail condition enjoining Naidu from speaking about sub judice matters arising out of this case in the public domain. However, the court refused to impose the other bail condition prohibiting him from organising or participating in political rallies or meetings. These conditions were imposed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court in an interim order, but later not extended when Naidu was granted regular bail.
At the end of the brief hearing, Justice Trivedi pronounced -
"Issue notice. Returnable on December 8. All the conditions imposed by November 3 order by the high court shall continue except the condition of organising or participating in public rallies or meetings. List on December 11."
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. In September, 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. The hearing has been concluded and the matter has been reserved for judgment.
In the meantime, Andhra Pradesh High Court has granted regular bail to Naidu last week. Justice T Mallikarjun Rao stated that, based on the available material, it couldn't be definitively concluded that the misappropriated amounts were diverted to TDP's bank accounts. The court also noted that Naidu couldn't be held responsible for the discrepancies highlighted in the Forensic Audit report, which indicated that out of the Rs 371 crores, at least Rs 241 crores were misappropriated by SISW and Design Tech, diverted to various shell companies. Last month, the HC had imposed restrictions on Naidu from giving press interviews or making public comments related to the case. However, while granting bail today, the court refused to continue these restrictions, stating that imposing such conditions could impact the electoral prospects of his political party.
State of Andhra Pradesh v. Nara Chandrababu Naidu | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 15099 of 2023
Click Here To Read/Download Order