Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu on Tuesday failed to secure any immediate reprieve from the Supreme Court in connection with his arrest by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) in the alleged 371 crore skill development scam.

A demonstration against Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader N Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest in New Delhi. (PTI)

A bench of justices Aniruddha Bose and Bela M Trivedi refused to entertain Naidu’s plea to restrain the trial court from examining CID’s application for his custodial interrogation. CID’s application for Naidu’s police custody is slated to come up before the trial court on Wednesday. Naidu has been in judicial custody since September 9.

Adjourning Naidu’s plea for quashing the case to October 9, the bench refrained from admitting the TDP chief’s petition for the time being. It asked the Andhra Pradesh government to first adduce all the documents that were presented before the high court during the previous round of proceedings.

The issue of the production of documents arose after the state government claimed that the inquiry into the alleged scam was initiated much before 2018 when the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act was amended to mandate prior sanction for prosecuting a public servant for acts done in the discharge of official duties.

While Naidu’s legal team, comprising senior advocates Harish Salve, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Sidharth Luthra, argued that the entire investigation and arrest of their client was illegal since no sanction under Section 17-A of the PC Act was obtained, the state government replied that the inquiry in the case had begun in 2017 and therefore, Section 17-A was not applicable.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Andhra Pradesh government, contended that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was seized of the matter even before the present government came to power in May 2019 and that a subsequent registration of an FIR in December 2021 will not make it mandatory for the police to take prior approval before arresting Naidu.

To this, the bench asked Rohatgi to adduce all the records before it on October 9 when the matter will be heard next.

As the proceedings drew to a close, Luthra complained that the CID was pressing for Naidu’s custodial interrogation before the trial court and the remand application be put on hold until the bench hears the matter next. But the bench replied: “This, we are not considering today…We are not saying anything about that. Let all the documents that were before the high court be filed here.”

The investigation against Naidu centres around a scheme that allegedly diverted government funds intended for a skill development project into various shell companies through fraudulent invoices, which did not correspond with the delivery of services. He was arrested and later remanded in judicial custody in the matter on September 10.

Terming his arrest an instance of “regime revenge and political vendetta”, Naidu on September 23 moved an appeal against the Andhra Pradesh high court order, refusing to nix the first information report (FIR) in the case against him.

In its order on September 22, the high court said that no case for interference with the proceedings was made out when the probe in the case was at the fulcrum of attaining finality. It added that since the former chief minister’s alleged actions were unconnected with his official duties or functions, the requirement of prior approval or sanction under Section 17-A of the PC Act was inapplicable.

Naidu, in his appeal before the top court, said that he was suddenly named in the FIR registered over 21 months ago. “The petitioner was arrested in an illegal manner and deprived of his liberty motivated only by political reasons and even though there is no material against him, the petitioner is being made to suffer through an illegally motivated investigation, in clear violation of his fundamental right to fair investigation,” said the plea.

It contended that Naidu has been illegally put into custody in the FIR “as an orchestrated campaign of regime revenge and to derail the largest opposition in the state, the TDP” because assembly elections were around the corner and he had started conducting rallies and having mass public contact programmes.

“The Andhra Pradesh CID is acting at the behest of the ruling party in order to hurt the petitioner’s party’s chances in the state election due early next year in a clear example of regime revenge. The CID is threatening the officers and others to implicate the Petitioner, his family, and the Party,” read the petition, filed through advocate Guntur Pramod Kumar.

The petition emphasised that mandatory approval under Section 17-A of the PC Act was necessary before the initiation of the inquiry and the registration of the FIR against him since all the alleged acts in the case were relatable to the decisions taken by him in the discharge of his official duties.

The present scenario of regime revenge and political vendetta is exactly what Section 17-A seeks to restrict by protecting innocent persons, claimed Naidu, adding the initiation of investigation without such approval vitiates the entire proceedings since inception and the same is a jurisdictional error

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