SC Lifts HC Gag Order on Reporting About Amaravati Land Scam FIR

Andhra Pradesh HC had stayed investigation of the FIR and imposed a comprehensive gag order on 15 September.

2 min read
File image of Chief Minister Jagan Reddy and Andhra Pradesh map, used for representational purposes.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 25 November stayed the gag order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court on any reporting about the Amaravati land scam FIR, which allegedly implicates a former Advocate General of the state and relatives of a senior judge of the apex court.

The Andhra Pradesh government had approached the apex court to challenge the orders passed by the high court on 15 September, when it imposed a ban on any media reporting about the FIR, and also stayed the investigation of the case.

While the top court bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah lifted the gag order, they have not interfered with the stay on the investigation itself, although they did issue notice on that appeal as well. The matter will now be taken up in January, according to Bar & Bench.

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the Andhra Pradesh government, submitted that the probe into the land deal – which allegedly saw influential and connected people acquire land in and around Amravati at undervalued prices around the time of the announcement of the new AP capital in 2014 – was not a “knee-jerk reaction”, and had been ordered after reports of a cabinet sub-committee on the alleged scam.

“Should such a case not be investigated? Was the High Court right to stay this investigation on the same day of the filing of the writ petition?” he asked, according to Live Law.

He also pointed out that there was little substance in the petition on which the high court orders were based, and that granting a prior restraint against the media was not justified in this case as there was no “real and substantial risk of prejudice” from reporting on the issue, as the Supreme Court had previously held was required for such gag orders.

Senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Harish Salve appeared on behalf of the former AP Advocate General who is named in the FIR, and sought to argue that the whole investigation and probe into the land scam was mala fide, as the purchase of land in Amravati was not done on the basis of some “secret knowledge” that the capital was going to change.

Rohatgi and Salve specifically took exception to the way in which the Jagan Reddy government had leaked the information about the FIR to the press – Salve also noted how the AP government had also leaked details of their letter to the Chief Justice of India about the senior Supreme Court judge.

Following a brief rebuttal by Dhavan, the judges passed their order. Further details are awaited.

(With inputs from Live Law, Bar & Bench.)

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