In an extraordinary letter to the Chief Justice of India, Reddy accused Justice Ramana – who is set to become the country’s next Chief Justice of India – of influencing the judicial process in Andhra Pradesh as a result of his alleged proximity to TDP leader and former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu. Not stopping here, he dredged up the issue of Justice Ramana’s daughters having acquired land in Amaravati at a time when they were minors and dependants. The State’s Anti-Corruption Bureau has filed a case relating to alleged irregularities in the purchase of land in Amaravati, which has implicated several high-ranking political leaders and bureaucrats.
Reddy’s letter raises at least three important issues. First, since the Amaravati land issue is in court, which is hearing it in camera, a sub-judice matter should not have been raised as an allegation in the letter. Also, prima facie, it is far from clear how the mere acquisition of land from a property dealer in the hope of capital appreciation amounts to corruption. Second, if a letter like this must be written – and that too by a constitutional functionary – it must have the necessary granular details to back its claims, rather than read like a general complaint about an alleged conspiracy against his government. Finally, there is a glaring lack of ethics in writing such a letter, leaking it to the press, and then arranging your official advisor to hold a press conference about it.
At the same time, the Supreme Court must not ignore Reddy’s letter. Having originated from someone who holds such a high office, the proper thing to do is to conduct a fair and thorough in-house inquiry into the allegations it raises. Only this will scotch rumours that the Supreme Court is attempting to sweep things under the carpet.
As for Reddy, it is not clear what he expects from this gambit. While he is upset that some judgments by the Andhra Pradesh High Court have gone against his government’s favour, it is not clear what he hopes to achieve by going out on such a limb. The succession in the Supreme Court is unlikely to be affected by the despatch of a mere letter. And if the outburst was meant to pressure or cow down the Andhra Pradesh High Court, it is unlikely that this will meet with success either. The timing of the drama suggests it could have had to do with a bench headed by Justice Ramana pushing for fast-tracking corruption cases against MPs and MLAs. Reddy himself is embroiled in a disproportionate assets case. With both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate on his tail, the resumption of court hearings suggests he is feeling the legal heat.
But the motives that Reddy may have for his unpredictable behaviour must not cloud the fact that the allegations have now found their way into the public domain. The Supreme Court must do whatever it can to investigate his claims, separate fact from fiction, and close the chapter on this ugly episode before the next CJI is nominated.