Vijayawada: The Andhra Pradesh High Court has granted regular bail to Telugu Desam president Nara Chandrababu Naidu in the AP skill development corporation scam case.
A single judge bench of Justice Mallikarjuna Rao pronounced the verdict here on Monday.
The court observed, "The interim bail granted to the petitioner/A-37 vide common order dated 31-10-2023 is made ‘absolute’ and the petitioner is ordered to be released on regular bail. However, the condition imposed earlier, in respect of his organising or participating in public rallies and meetings, shall stand relaxed from 29-11-2023."
The AP government will move the Supreme Court, with additional advocate general Ponnavolu Sudhakar Reddy saying the High Court order was far in excess of the jurisdiction of the bail parameters as repeatedly held by the apex court.
Giving the verdict the High Court further said, "The petitioner is directed to produce the medical reports regarding his treatment before the ACB special court in Vijayawada on or before 28-11-2023, instead of producing the same before the superintendent, Central Prison, Rajamahendravaram. The remaining conditions imposed earlier shall be followed by the petitioner scrupulously."
"The court is unconvinced by the petitioner’s claim that the case was politically motivated as a regime revenge by the present government," it said.
"The respondent-state highlights that the issue was raised by a whistle-blower during the previous government’s term. While the respondent argues that the income tax authorities independently examined the petitioner’s role and found fraudulent transactions, no supporting material has been presented."
Petitioner’s counsels Siddarth Luthra and Damamalapati Srinivas and AP CID’s counsel additional advocate general Ponnavolu Sudhakar presented their arguments before the court.
The additional advocate general submitted that bail should not be granted to the petitioner on the ground that the other accused in the case were granted bail; and in the event parity was claimed, it was for the court to determine whether a case for the grant of bail on reasons of parity was made out.
He submitted that the petitioner could not claim the case as a regime-revenge by the present government and said that the issue started on 14-05-2018 by a whistleblower during the previous Telugu Desam period. "But the blame was unfairly thrown on the present government."
Petitioner’s counsel argued that under section 439 of CrPC, the court can impose conditions while granting bail, but such conditions must balance the liberty of the accused and not result in the arbitrary deprivation of the right to carry out normal activities. Counsel further argued that "every citizen is entitled to possess and enjoy freedom of speech and expression, which are basic in nature."
The court observed that the prosecution’s claim that the petitioner indirectly influenced witnesses, co-accused and party members lacked substantiating material. The filing of a petiton by Killaru Rajesh before the station house officer of Jubilee Hills Police Station and the non-appearance of Pendyala Srinivas, former personal assistant to the petitioner, did not bear relevance to the bail application.
"The investigation agency should follow legal procedures to address any concerns regarding Pendyala Srinivas. The allegation that the petitioner influenced key witnesses and hindered investigatin lacked supporting evidence."
"The copy of FIR at Begumpet police station did not mean a violation of interim bail conditions by the petitioner, such as conducting a rally."The court observed that it maintained its stand on the maintainability of the bail application during the pendency of SLP filed before the Supreme Court seeking quashing of FIR in skill scam case, while disposing of the interim bail application.
According to additional advocate general, the approach of the High Court was clearly flawed because it sought to go into questions which were not argued by the petitioner’s counsel, did not fall for consideration. He further said, the High Court acted beyond its jurisdiction in making observations about the material, its relevance, its evidence-worthiness and the gaps in investigation when it was an ongoing investigation and the TD officials stonewalled the investigation taking advantage of the hearing of bail application.
"They did not furnish the information as sought by the AP CID. It was really alarming that the HC stepped into the trial court’s powers in pronouncing on the merits of the matter, while professing not to go into the merits of the case. The petitioners did not argue their turn when the bail petition was taken up for arguments. The AP CID made such an objection to the court and was recorded. The HC’s approach towards the bail petition was unprecedented and had the trappings of a full-fledged trial on the merits of the allegations in an ongoing investigation and it was a gross overstepping of the jurisdiction at the bail stage," the additional advocate general said.