20 Oct 2023 6:48 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday adjourned the plea by former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu for anticipatory bail in the FiberNet scam in the state till November 9.A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi was hearing Naidu's special leave petition against an order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court refusing to grant him anticipatory bail earlier this week.Earlier...
The Supreme Court on Friday adjourned the plea by former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu for anticipatory bail in the FiberNet scam in the state till November 9.
A bench of Justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi was hearing Naidu's special leave petition against an order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court refusing to grant him anticipatory bail earlier this week.
Earlier this month, not only did the court issue notice, but after an apprehension was raised over Naidu's imminent arrest, the court also asked the State of Andhra Pradesh police to 'stay its hand' till then. Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra had pointed out that a warrant has been issued to produce Naidu in connection with the FiberNet case on Monday, October 16. "He is on a merry-go-round. After his initial arrest [in the skill development scam case], they are going after him in one case after the other."
At the court's insistence, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, on behalf of the crime investigation department, assured that Naidu would not be arrested till Wednesday, October 18. On that day, the hearing had to be adjourned owing to a paucity of time, but the interim arrangement against any coercive action was extended till Friday, October 20.
Today, the oral undertaking made at the Bar by Rohatgi was once again directed to be extended till Thursday, November 9. Justice Bose asked Luthra during the hearing, "Shall we wait till the judgment is delivered?" The reference was to the verdict on a special leave petition challenging an Andhra Pradesh High Court order refusing to quash a first information report (FIR) in connection with the skill development scam case, which was reserved by the bench earlier this week.
"I leave it to Your Lordships," Luthra replied, before urging for the continuance of the interim protection. "Otherwise, this plea will become infructuous."
Senior Advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the State of Andhra Pradesh protested. "Once a person is in custody, the question of arrest does not always arise. This has also been held by this court in at least four judgments. It can happen, but what will be the outcome is that judicial custody will continue vis à vis that case as well. We have stated that in our counter-affidavit. Your Lordships' observation that we should await the judgment would be the right course..."
"Since he is in custody, you can still interrogate Naidu," Justice Bose questioned the need for formally arresting Naidu in the FiberNet scam case.
"For purpose of interrogation, I will need this court's permission then. We have filed for a warrant under Section 267. Unless we can show him to be in our custody, we cannot apply for police custody," Kumar reasoned.
Luthra interjected, "That is fallacious. It's a complete misrepresentation of the law. I'm sorry to say this. They have not bothered to ask him any question since September 9, when he was taken into custody..."
After discussing, the bench ultimately decided to defer the hearing until November 9, in view of the judgment in the skill development case that is yet to be pronounced. Justice Bose firmly said, "Let the understanding continue."
Nara Chandrababu Naidu, the Telugu Desam Party president and former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, has been accused of playing a 'key role' in the AP FiberNet scam that happened during the TDP term in the state. The AP crime investigation department (CID) has accused him of exerting pressure on officials to favour a certain company that was awarded the FiberNet contract, despite its alleged lack of necessary qualifications. Naidu was recently implicated in this case that was registered back in 2021. After his arrest in the skill development scam case, the prosecution moved a petition under Section 263 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for the issuance of a transit warrant. Although the State has sought to explain the delay in Naidu's inclusion as an accused on grounds of the challenges faced in examining crucial witnesses and suspected conspirators thrcough digital means, the former chief minister has cried foul, calling this a politically motivated decision.
This week, Naidu's plea for anticipatory bail in this case was dismissed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The court, while addressing Naidu's concerns about the timing of his inclusion as an accused in the case, emphasised that the investigative process in such complex offenses naturally takes time. Justice K. Suresh Reddy maintained that the evidence presented by the prosecution, particularly the testimony of a key witness, did not support the claim of motivated timing and underscored the necessity of considering larger public interest when deciding matters of bail, rather than merely focusing on the prescribed penalties for the offence. Justice Reddy while dismissing the anticipatory bail application held -
"In the circumstances and since the larger interest of the public or State also needs to be looked at in terms of the gravity, and not only in terms of the penalty prescribed for the offence, and having regard to the gravity of the offence which pertains to the allegation of causing of pecuniary advantage of about Rs.114.53 crores to A3 and consequential loss to the state exchequer, with the alleged connivance of the petitioner, this court is of the opinion that grant of anticipatory bail to the petitioner is not warranted at this stage, more so, when the trail of money is yet to be investigated, and to see that the investigation is not frustrated."
On September 9, Naidu was also arrested in connection with a skill development scam in the state, with the state crime investigation department claiming to have prima 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. He has been custody since.
Last month, the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed Naidu’s plea for quashing of the first information report (FIR) in which 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.
The Supreme Court is also currently hearing a special leave petition against this order.
Nara Chandrababu Naidu v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr. | Special Leave Petition (Criminal) No. 13356 of 2023