After targeting political opponents and media critics with vengeance, the Jagan Mohan Reddy government now appears to be headed on a collision course with the judiciary.
A wave of adverse judicial verdicts has put the YSR Congress government in a tight spot. Several controversial decisions, including the unceremonious dismissal of the state election commissioner and cancellation of key infrastructure projects of the previous Telugu Desam Party regime, have been overturned by the courts.
During the last one year, the High Court and Supreme Court have issued over 50 orders that went against the decisions taken by the government.
“The vindictive nature of the government’s decisions is only matched by their brazenness,” senior analyst Ramesh Kandula said.
“It is true that the YSR Congress party has absolute majority in the assembly. But, it doesn’t mean that the political executive has the powers to destroy constitutional organs like the State Election Commission and rule like a monarch,” a legal expert J Ravi Shankar said.
The latest legal setback came last week when the Supreme Court refused to grant stay on the AP high court order for maintaining status quo on Amaravati, the capital city, envisioned by the former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu, caught in a political row.
After the apex court set aside a special leave petition filed by the state government, the High Court has extended the status quo on continuing Amaravati as the state capital till September 21.
This has put a brake on the government’s ambitious plans to shift the executive capital to Visakhapatnam at the earliest and showcase the coastal Andhra city as a potential investment destination.
Phone tapping charges
The high court has taken a serious view of the allegations that some judges and advocates, appearing in cases against the government, are being monitored by the government agencies. The court issued notices to CBI officials and various telecom and internet service providers in this regard.
A petition filed in the court alleged that even some of the judges had been kept under ‘surveillance’, a charge vehemently denied by the government.
TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu has written to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking CBI probe into the phone tapping allegations.
However, BJP MP and party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao dubbed the issue as ‘political’ and said there was no scope for the Centre to intervene in such matters.
“Judges and courts function independently. If there are any such issues, they don’t need Naidu’s help. They know how to exercise their authority. So, political leaders raising court issues aren’t right,” the BJP leader said.
Attack on social media
In a disturbing trend, the supporters of the ruling party have taken to the social media to attack the high court judges for delivering adverse verdicts.
The court has initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against 60 persons for their “abusive, hateful and intimidating” social media posts against judges. The accused, including an MP from Bapatla N Suresh, made public statements attributing caste bias against judges.
“The political attacks targeting a section of the judiciary is a new and disturbing trend. The social media handles of the YSR Congress and TDP have been engaged in bitter war of words over the last one year. The vertical split in the mainstream media has further muddied the waters,” says media analyst Ramakrishna Sangem.
A string of legal battles has dominated the functioning of the Jagan government in the last 15 months. The consistent setbacks in courts have shown the government in poor light.
From the ambitious three-capital plan and review of power purchase agreements to the electoral reforms ordinance and education policy, several key policies of the government have faced the legal hurdle.
On May 29, the High Court struck down an ordinance to remove the state election commissioner (SEC), Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar, by amending the AP Panchayat Raj Act to reduce the term of the SEC from five to three years.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had refused to intervene in a petition filed by the state government challenging the SEC’s decision to defer the local bodies in view of the coronavirus crisis. The court ruled that it could not meddle with the functions of the SEC.
In an apparent bid to woo the backward classes (BCs) away from the opposition TDP’s fold, the government issued a GO increasing the quota in the local bodies from 27% to 34% in the run up to the elections. This spike in the BC quota resulted in reservations for BCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes touching 60%, crossing the Supreme Court’s cap of 50%. Citing this cap, the high court struck down the order.
The High Court had also ordered a CBI inquiry into the suspension and alleged persecution of Dr K Sudhakar, a doctor from Visakhapatnam who had accused the government of not providing all medical professionals with PPEs.
It had also set aside a government order to paint public buildings in party colours and asked that senior IPS officer AB Venkateswara Rao, who had been suspended on suspicion of leaking critical intelligence information to an Israeli defence manufacturer, be reinstated.
More importantly, the chief minister’s flagship agenda of trifurcation of the capital ran into rough weather, with the high court ordering status quo.
The high court ruling in the murder case of Jagan’s paternal uncle YS Vivekananda Reddy has embarrassed the government. Responding to the petitions of the victim’s daughter Sunitha Reddy and widow Sowbhagyamma, the court directed the government to divest the state probe agencies of the case and entrust it to the CBI. The petitioners approached the high court, against the delay in the progress of the case, even though the government is headed by a family member of the victim.