Casteism is the common worrying factor in complaints of the two Chief Ministers in 1961 and 2020. If the complaint-based press statement of four Supreme Court judges is also considered, the roster and allocation of cases to various benches appears to be a common factor of controversy. Some matters being placed before some benches selectively is objected to.
In the fields of politics i.e., selecting contestants for elections and sharing of power, two parties encourage two sociological caste groups, one bitterly opposed to others. This kind of classification can be seen among IAS and IPS officers and Government employees also. If one belongs to a particular caste, he should be in the party dominated by that caste. The influence of these castes on Judiciary was so far dormant, but in the recent months it is visible. Two letters from CMs with a gap of 60 years show how casteism crept into all the institutions and appointments.
The letter of CM Sanjivayya in 1961 raises the question of domination of Reddy community over the AP Judiciary while CM Jagan Mohan Reddy's letter complains about pro-Kamma influences. First was secret and had no visible consequences. Second complaint being publicised, whole nation is discussing it. Two dominant political parties – YSRCP ruling now, and TDP, which stayed in power for a long time in AP till 2019 are dominated by these two castes, respectively. The media in AP (& Telangana) is also divided on these party lines. Technical wings of these two political parties have developed strategies to do campaigns and counter campaigns purely on caste-party links, vertically dividing people, critics, and others. Any comment or tv debate gets the tag of either party depending on the support to the point. For instance, if somebody hails judgment of AP High Court striking down the GO which proposed for conversion of all schools into English medium schools, he would be tagged as TDP man. Someone who finds fault with general order gagging media from reporting, he is called YSRCP man. If anybody writes that Jagan has committed contempt of court and action should be taken against him, for the letter alleging bias and undue influence by a Supreme Court judge is he must be a TDP supporter, and if a critique says the system of rule of law demands consideration of allegations for further inquiry, he is a YSRCP's agent.
And all the three exposures deal with the issue of Roster and allocation of cases to various benches (of judges). Besides questioning the allocation of certain cases to only selective benches, former CM Sanjivayya made allegations against Chief Justice of caste based communal favouritism in selections & adjudication, besides unfair treatment of honest judges.
While Sanjivayya sought transfer of partisan Chief Justice, the other complainants did not make any specific demand but sought correction of the system. Jagan' letter contains serious allegations of political party bias in favour of TDP and against YSRCP, undue influence and illegitimate nexus with previous government and involvement in purchase of land along with others allegedly with inside information, etc.
It was Damodaram Sanjivayya in 1961, the first CM who wrote a detailed letter of complaints to the then Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastry, dealing about favouritism based on caste and corruption allegedly by then AP Chief Justice, P Chandra Reddy. The entire text of the letter is accessible, as that was available at National Archives of India.
Recently, Justice K Chandru wrote an article in The Hindu explaining the position of a particular Judge before the then Chief Minister Sanjivayya complained to Union Home Minister. Justice Chandru mentioned that when Justice P Chandra Reddy was a judge of High Court of Andhra Pradesh there were some allegations, based on which he was transferred to Madras High Court. The official website of Madras High Court shows that Palagani Chandra Reddi worked as a Judge from 1950 to 1954. Andhra Pradesh High Court website aphcaa.in shows that P Chandra Reddy worked at AP High Court from 1958 to 1964.
Bar's Complaint to CJI Gajendragadkar
Former Judge of Madras High Court, Justice Chandru, pointed out that there were complaints against AP HC Judge, Justice P Chandra Reddy, and the then Chief Justice of India, PB Gajendragadkar, had transferred him out of AP to Madras, after the CJI personally inquired into the allegation in Hyderabad. Justice Chandru wrote:
"At least in five cases, motions were brought against high court judges, but not one of them was taken to the logical end. In the early 60s when complaints were made against Justice Chandra Reddy (A.P. High Court) that he was favouring persons in the Bar, the Supreme Court was at a loss to deal with the situation."
Then, Justice Chandru quoted from the biography of PB Gajendragadkar, Chief Justice of India, who went to Hyderabad on an unofficial visit. Justice Gajendragadkar wrote in his biography:-
"I took the Chief Justice into my confidence… I said in fairness, 'You give me the names of your lawyers and your colleagues whom I should take into my confidence and ask relevant questions'…He supplied me with the list and it was precisely the lawyers and judges named by him in the list that I met. To my disagreeable surprise, not only all the lawyers but even most of the judges supported the complaint…
I had unfortunately come to the conclusion that many of the complaints were well-founded. I also told him that I did not want to suggest any action which would discredit him in the eyes of the public, but I would propose to the Union Government to send him to Madras."
Then Justice Chandru says: "We wish we had such lawyers today practising in courts to make an informal inquiry truthful and result oriented. But we have only certain bar associations jumping into the fray and trying to save judges accused of serious misbehaviour in the name of independence of the judiciary."
Action: Justice P Chandra Reddy was transferred from AP to Madras HC.
CM Sanjivayya's complaint
It is relevant to extract the paragraphs from the then CM Sanjivayya who addressed a DO letter to Lal Bahadur Shastry on 4th November 1961 about the then Chief Justice P Chandra Reddy. He wrote:
"Politics have crept into the High Court where also groupism on communal and other lines has been predominant. Unless the Present Chief Justice is changed immediately, it will be disastrous for this already communal ridden state.
Sri P Chandra Reddy is thoroughly communal minded, and he displays this quality openly without any regard to public opinion. He has strong likes and dislikes which badly interfere with his work. He got closely attached to some puisne Judges of the High court who have been exercising strong influence over him, namely Mr Justice S. Raju and Mr Justice JM Reddy. The entire administration is run by them. The former of the two, particularly, is of very scheming and intriguing type and Justice Chandra Reddy is completely in his hands. They go the High Court together everyday and even in the open parties in the public, this association is demonstrated much to the chagrin of their other colleagues who have insignificant existence in the High Court. Except for two or three Judges, the rest are not at all independent, and they can be said to be 'Yes men' of Mr Chandra Reddy, or Mr Raju or Mr JM Reddi. Only such people are chosen for Benches and the Full Benches and Full Benches of our High Court have become a farce and mockery. The senior most judge to Chief Justice, Mr Justice Umamaheshwaram, who is independent and saintly type of person is completely ignored and sometimes insulted in a sly fashion by keeping Mr Raju in charge of the work of the Chief Justice in his absence. Such personal considerations are not conducive to the harmony or reputation of the High Court. I understand that important files are not even circulated to senior Judges. I learn that there is also manipulation in the posting of cases before the Judges.
While Mr O. Reddy had put up only five years services as a District Judge, Mr Chandra Reddy took up his case strongly and out of the way for promotion to the selection grade and got it done. The Chief Justice also went out of the way in having the seniority of the aforesaid Mr Ramachandra Raju and Mr Chandrasekhara Reddi fixed up in a particular manner.
The Cliques in the High Court are openly talked about and they are worse than our politics.
Some judges openly expressed that any independent judgement of a Judge is so disliked by the Chief Justice that in hearing an appeal from it he reverses it even without looking into it. It is understood that the Chief Justice Mr Chandra Reddi openly encourages his castemen at the Bar much to the heartburn of other members of the Bar.
I can assertively state that the confidence of the public is badly shaken in his regime as Chief Justice."
Chief Minister wanted to keep this complaint confidential to prevent the Chief Justice from interfering and preventing the inquiry and manipulating the affairs in their affair.
Action/Inaction: The action, if any that followed this letter, is not known. After getting transferred because of proven complaints, Chandra Reddy returned to Hyderabad as Chief Justice causing Chief Minister to write a detailed complaint. Chronology of record of former judges does not show when was he acted as Chief Justice and what action was taken in response to Sanjeevayya's complaint. From the dates, it appears nothing happened.
SC Judges Complain against CJI Sexual Harassment Case against CJO
57 years after this complaint, four sitting judges led by Justice Chelameswar made an open complaint against the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. Is it an offence or improper conduct to discuss a complaint against CJI in public? This question was raised against four judges. In their letter on January 12, 2018, four SC judges wrote: "It is with great anguish and concern that we have thought it proper to address this letter to you so as to highlight certain judicial orders passed by this Court which has adversely affected the overall functioning of the justice delivery system and the independence of the High Courts besides impacting the administrative functioning of the Office of the Hon'ble the Chief Justice of India."
Judges pointed out:
"One of the well-settled principles is that the Chief Justice is the master of the roster with a privilege to determine the roster, necessity in multi-numbered courts for an orderly transaction of business and appropriate arrangements with respect to matters with which member/bench of this Court (as the case may be) is required to deal with which case or class of cases is to be made."
They pointed out another rule:
"A necessary corollary to the above-mentioned principle is the members of any multi numbered judicial body including this Court would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition wise and strength wise with due regard to the roster fixed…. We are sorry to say that off late the twin rules mentioned above have not been strictly adhered to."
Finally, they wanted:
"The Hon'ble Chief Justice of India is duty-bound to rectify the situation and take appropriate remedial measures after a full discussion with the other members of the Collegium and at a later stage, if required, with other Hon'ble Judges of this Court."
Action/inaction: None knows whether any action was taken or changes were brought in the Roaster system or any other point that was highlighted by four judges, though it was widely debated in media.
Sexual Harassment Case against CJI
One of these four judges, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, later became the Chief Justice of India, and faced a serious allegation of sexual harassment. It was for the first time that the CJI came in for such serious criticism that resulted in an inquiry, which also was a troublesome controversy. The Judiciary's credibility suffered a severe blow with the way the complaint was handled. While Ranjan Gogoi was rewarded with Rajya Sabha seat after his retirement, the complainant woman lost her job. These incidents cast a shadow of doubt on the role of the Judiciary and the silence of executive.
Jagan's Allegations against SC Judge
There are certain serious developments before Jaganmohan Reddy wrote this letter:
- AP Judiciary was dragged into Reddy- Naidu rivalry
- AP State Cabinet Committee filed a report on December 27, 2019 alleging Chandrababu Naidu had allowed some influential persons of TDP to gain huge profits based on their knowledge about location of proposed capital at Amaravati. They bought land before notification at lower price and sold after notification with huge profit.
- December Report alleged Naidu and his Lokesh, their Advocate General Dammalapati Srinivas and others have committed illegalities.
- February 2020, Special Investigation Team SIT constituted to inquire into the charges in December Report.
- The Cabinet-Sub-Committee headed by him prima facie found that various individuals and corporate bodies closely associated with Chandrababu Naidu and his government purchased considerable extent of land (approximately in the order of 4,000 acres) by adopting various illegal means. He stated that the committee's report was placed before the Legislative Assembly, which opined deeper enquiry was needed into the allegations.
- The Government registered cases related to this land scam under the Andhra Pradesh Assigned Land (Prohibition of Transfer) Act, 1977 against those speculated and made pecuniary gains.
- In March TDP General Secretary Varla Ramaiah, and Former Minister A R Prasad, separately challenged the order constituting cabinet Sub-Committee in the AP High Court.
- AP CM wrote to Ministry of Home Affairs irregularities found by Cabinet Sub Committee in contracts relating to works in Andhra Pradesh State Fibernet Ltd and execution of Bharatnet Broadband projects to give high speed broadband to Gram Panchayats at lower ratesand the government forwarded the report to the Union of India seeking CBI investigation. Jaganmohan Reddy explained that though his government was competent enough to take up appropriate action on these illegalities, he preferred inquiry by a body over which he would not have administrative control, to avoid the criticism of political vendetta.
- The State requests Union on July 20 to order a CBI probe, to which there was no response till today.
- Anti Corruption Bureau registered an FIR on September 15 against Dammalapati Srinivas and others regarding land purchases.
- On September 15, the AP High Court stayed investigation by ACB, issued a general Gag order prohibiting all types of media about the Amaravati land scam.
- September 16, two TDP petitioners filed WPs in the AP High Court, which stayed the Government orders constituting SIT and Cabinet-Sub-Committee.
- Jagan Mohan Reddy writes a letter on 6 October 2020 to CJI explaining the roles of Justice Ramana and some HC Judges and certain benami land deals in Amaravati. Jagan sought intervention of CJI to ensure neutrality in AP High Cout.
- On October 10, Jagan Government has put the copy of letter and materials in media.
Why Complaint is publicised?
In Ravichandran Iyer versus Justice A.M. Bhattacharjee (1995) case, the Supreme Court had held that such complaints should be confidential, Prashant Bhushan says to counter the tendency of brushing the complaints of corruption against judges under the carpet, the complaint should be placed in public knowledge, which compels the CJI to order a probe.
The paragraphs from (a) to (c) of CM's letter reflect no problem or illegality at all. It was a right move of the CM to hand over the investigation into the acts of former Chief Minister and leader of the opposition to the CBI instead of retaining it with his own police administration.
"It came to light that two daughters of Honourable Sri Justice N V Ramana, a sitting Judge of Supreme Court and some of his close associates and relatives are beneficiaries of various questionable transactions of land within the area which came to be eventually notified as a location of the new capital proposed by Sri Chandrababu Naidu. The said transactions took place in the interregnum period between Mr Chandrababu Naidu's swearing in as CM of AP and the public announcement of location of the new capital."
He further wrote:
e) Such transactions of purchase and sale of properties could not have taken place without the knowledge and acquiescence of Sri Justice N V Ramana for the simple reason that just a year before such purchase, in his declaration of assets as the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, it is shown that his 2 daughters are dependant members of his family. No information is available in public domain for the years 2014 and 2015. The enclosed diagrammatic representation clearly demonstrates the sequence of transactions and the obvious pecuniary gain.
f) …… I am also enclosing the joint holding property of Sri Dammalapati Srinvas and the daughters of Sri Justice N V Ramana and the other accused as mentioned in the FIR and as per the records available on the CRDA website.
g) Sri Justice Ramana's proximity to Mr Chandrababu Naidu is too well-known. I am making this statement with the utmost responsibility. I may only bring it to your notice that a former judge of Honourable Supreme Court Justice Chalameswar placed this fact on record with EVIDENCE…..
7. Sri Justice N V Ramana has been influencing the sittings of the High Court including the roster of a few Honourable Judges and instances of how matters important to Telugu Desam Party have been allocated to a few Honourable Judges are enclosed in the annexure, along with the copies of the orders passed in a few matters…..
Through this letter, Jagan reflected confidence about the sufficiency of evidence to prove alleged nexus between TDP leader and judge, besides the influence over the AP High Court. However, he did not make any demand for action but sought intervention of CJI to neutralize the judges at Amaravathi.
Just within five days of his complaint, Jagan directed his advisor to put the entire text and annexures of complaint in public domain, which kicked off national debate and raised questions of impropriety and demand for action against complainant while many are seeking due consideration of complaint for a possible inquiry.
One rule that emerges out of all these complaints is that the judicial independence and credibility will not suffer by complaints but by inaction over them. Transparency and time to time correction based on complaints will strengthen all the three estates and democracy. As per the rules and mechanism devised by the Supreme Court Committee in 1999, which was published in 2015, the Chief Justice of India is under an obligation to consider the worth of complaint filed by anybody, and if he finds any substance it could be referred to preliminary inquiry followed by further action depending upon findings.
Now the question debated is whether the judicial independence and credibility will suffer by complaint or inaction over it. If CJI finds no basis for the allegation, the process could get closed.
Transparency and time to time action or correction based on complaints will strengthen all the three estates and democracy.
About the author: M Sridhar Acharyulu is former Central Information Commissioner and Dean, School of Law, Bennett University.