The power to decide whether there is constitutional breakdown in any State that calls for imposition of President’s rule rests entirely in the executive under Article 356 of the Constitution.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court, functioning as a handmaiden of the ousted Telugu Desam government of Chandrababu Naidu, passed an interim order on 1 October, calling on the senior counsel appearing for the State to come prepared to assist the court as to whether in circumstances prevailing in the State the court can record a finding that there is constitutional breakdown in Andhra Pradesh.
The order was passed in 14 habeas corpus petitions. The Supreme Court found the High Court order, a prelude to getting the Andhra Pradesh government of YSR Jaganmohan Reddy dismissed, ‘disturbing’.
Heading a three-judge Bench, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on 18 December stayed the AP High Court order saying, as the apex court, “we find this order disturbing.” The High Court’s order violates the Basic Structure doctrine of the Constitution and seemed to have reversed the judgment of the nine judge apex court Bench in the SR Bommai case laying down the scope of Article 356.
There is no denying the fact the AP High Court has been constantly meddling with the decisions of the Jaganmohan Reddy government which have affected its functioning. The court was responsible for causing the Supreme Court to direct the Union government to establish 12 Special Courts to try exclusively various cases pending against serving legislators.
Special Courts should be offence-centric and not offender centric and could not be established on the basis of executive orders. A clutch of criminal cases has been pending against Jaganmohan Reddy which he is facing bravely.
An exasperated Chief Minister filed a complaint against the judiciary, including allegations of malfeasance against the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, NV Ramana, with the CJI. The Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association wants the Chief Minister to be hauled up for contempt of court. Contempt proceedings against Jaganmohan Reddy would be counterproductive as his complaint alleges judicial impropriety and corruption.
He had alleged that Justice NV Ramana’s daughters were involved in questionable land deals in Amaravati because of which the judge was interfering in the working of the AP High Court.
Lawyers practising in the SC must seek to determine whether the allegations carry merit and not jump to conclusions. The SC had evolved an in-house procedure to inquire into serious charges against judges. The code of conduct requires an inquiry by three sitting judges of the SC.
Since the complaint involves the senior-most judge of the SC, judges junior to him are unlikely to conduct a credible inquiry as it happened in the sexual harassment complaint against previous CJI Ranjan Gogoi. CJI Bobde could enlist the services of retired judges of impeccable reputation. As long as the allegations remain uninvestigated, suspicions about the judiciary will linger. The decision to hold such an inquiry rests with the CJI. Such a course will enhance the image of the apex court.