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New SC bench to hear Chandrababu Naidu's plea after judge recuses

Source: PTI
Last updated on: September 27, 2023 19:17 IST
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it will not restrain the trial court from dealing with a plea seeking police custody of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu as it announced a new bench will hear his petition for quashing the FIR in the alleged Rs 371 crore scam in the state's Skill Development Corporation on October 3. 

IMAGE: Security forces deployed outside the Rajahmundry Central Prison where former Andhra Pradesh CM and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu is lodged in connection with the alleged skill development scam. Photograph: ANI Photo

The plea by Naidu, who was arrested in the case on September 9, came up before two benches in the top court but without any effective hearing.

It initially it came up before the designated bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti, but the latter recused himself from hearing the matter.

Justice Khanna said, "My brother has little difficulty in hearing this matter. We are directing it to be listed before another bench next week."          

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for the TDP leader, then rushed to the bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud for urgent hearing on Naidu's plea keeping in mind the upcoming holiday.

The top court, which is closing on September 28, will resume functioning on October 3. 


”We have some unorthodox requests to make as Justice Bhatti recused from hearing. I did not disturb this bench as it was in the midst of a hearing,” Luthra said while mentioning the case before the CJI-led bench in the evening.

”We will list it before an appropriate bench on October 3,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The senior lawyer told the court the investigating agency is pressing for police custody of the former chief minister and requested the bench to prevent it from doing so.

He also contended police custody cannot be sought after the first 15 days of arrest, according to a provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

"We will not restrain the trial judge from dealing with this,” the CJI said during a brief hearing.

Luthra said since the matter was listed before the top court, the counsel for Naidu did not press his bail application before the trial court.

Now that Justice Bhatti has recused himself from hearing, we are in a predicament as the CID will, in the meanwhile, press its application for custody.

Luthra said the FIR against Naidu cannot be sustained in the eyes of law as no prior sanction, as provided for under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, was obtained by the investigators.

"From September 8, this man is in custody after he was picked up illegally...They are roping him in FIR after the FIR only because the 2024 election is coming up,” he said, adding that Naidu was travelling across Andhra Pradesh to mobilise political support when he was picked up.

Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, appearing for Andhra Pradesh, opposed Naidu's plea, saying the case pertained to a scam worth crores of rupees and the alleged offence took place before the 2018 amendment that introduced Section 17A in the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act.

Earlier in the day, after Justice Bhatti recused himself from hearing the case, Justice Khanna said the bench cannot direct listing it on a specific date but may order its listing next week.

"Subject to orders of the Chief Justice, the present special leave petition be placed before a bench of which one of us (Justice Bhatti) is not a member,” the bench of Justices Khanna and Bhatti said.

Luthra then mentioned the matter before the CJI-led bench.

Naidu was arrested on September 9 for allegedly misappropriating funds from the Skill Development Corporation when he was the chief minister in 2015, causing a purported loss of Rs 371 crore crore to the state exchequer. His judicial remand has been extended by the trial court till October 5.

The CID in its remand report alleged that Naidu ”indulged in a criminal conspiracy with the intention of fraudulent misappropriation or otherwise conversion of government funds for his own use, disposal of property which was under the control of a public servant, besides engaging in cheating, forging documents and destroying evidence”.

Naidu, the Telugu Desam Party chief, had moved the top court on September 23 challenging the Andhra Pradesh high court order dismissing his petition for quashing the FIR against him in connection with the alleged scam. The high court had rejected his plea last Friday.

On September 25, the top court had asked Naidu's lawyer to mention his petition for urgent listing on Tuesday.

While dismissing his petition for quashing of the FIR, the high court had noted it was devoid of merit and said the court was not inclined to interfere at this stage when the investigation was still going on.

The high court had observed that police have the statutory right and duty under the relevant provisions of the CrPC to investigate a cognisable offence.

It had also said the power of quashing an FIR should be exercised sparingly with circumspection.

Noting that criminal proceedings ought not to be scuttled at the initial stage, the high court had said quashing an FIR should be an exception rather than the rule.

The former AP CM said in his plea the video recording of his questioning by the CID was leaked to media channels ”associated with the state administration” with a ”mala fide” intention to defame and humiliate him,

”To malign the petitioner's image further, the CID chief of Andhra Pradesh and its lawyer/s gave press conference/s at different places making false allegations with the mala fide intent to defame the petitioner and humiliate him in the eyes of the public,” Naidu's petition said.

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