SC rejects AP govt’s plea against anticipatory bail to TDP chief Naidu

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the Andhra Pradesh government’s plea challenging the anticipatory bail granted to TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu in the Amaravati Inner Ring Road (IRR) scam case.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta dismissed the state’s appeal challenging the high court’s January 10 order giving relief to Naidu.

The bench noted that an appeal, arising from the same FIR involving other accused, had already been dismissed by the top court in November, 2022. It said in view of the 2022 order, the bench is not inclined to entertain the state’s appeal.

The bench, however, clarified that any observation made by it or the high court while granting anticipatory bail to Naidu will not affect the investigation in the case.

It said if Naidu does not cooperate in the probe, then the state would be at liberty to move an application for cancellation of his bail.

During the brief hearing, senior advocate Ranjit Kumar and advocate Mahfooz A Nazki, appearing for the state, said the high court went into merits of the case and quoted facts wrongly while granting anticipatory bail to Naidu. Justice Khanna, at the outset, asked Kumar whether the matter pertains to the period 2014-19, like the Skill Development Corporation scam case in which the apex court gave a split verdict about the applicability of Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act, a provision under which prior permission from the competent authority is mandatory for registration of a corruption case against a public servant.

Kumar said the issue of Section 17A “may not” arise in the present matter which relates to grant of anticipatory bail.

Justice Khanna, however, said, “If the provision (section 17A) applies, then you will have to take prior sanction.” The bench asked Kumar to read out the offences under the Indian Penal Code which have been levelled against Naidu in the FIR.

When Kumar said he has been booked for cheating under Section 420 of the IPC and criminal breach of trust, Justice Khanna said it would be “little difficult” for the state to make a case of cheating against the former chief minister.

Kumar claimed Naidu is the “primary architect” of the scam and the ultimate beneficiary of the windfall gains made by parties as a result of his manipulation of the alignment of the IRR.

“These projects were awarded when he was the CM. Can you start going into the question who should be given the contract. We should not go into the question about who should be given and who should not be given the contract,” Justice Khanna told Kumar.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, who appeared for Naidu, said this court had on November 7, 2022 dismissed the state government’s appeal against the relief granted to a co-accused in the case.

Justice Khanna said, “Why should we not follow this order (November 7, 2022)? Same allegation, same FIR, same set of facts. Mr Kumar, if an SLP in one case has been dismissed then we should not be entertaining this.” Naidu has been accused of involvement in corrupt practices in formulating the master plan for Amravati, the Andhra Pradesh capital, including acts relating to the alignment of the inner ring road when he was the chief minister.

He has already secured regular bail in the Skill Development Corporation scam case from the high court and protection from arrest in the FiberNet scam case by the apex court.

The FiberNet case relates to alleged tender manipulation for allotting a work order under Phase-1 of the AP FiberNet Project involving Rs 330 crore to a favoured company. On November 20, 2023, the Andhra Pradesh high court had converted Naidu’s four-week interim medical bail in the Skill Development Corporation scam case into regular bail, considering his age, old age-related ailments, non-flight risk and other reasons.

Naidu, 73, was arrested on September 9 last year for allegedly misappropriating funds from the skill development corporation when he was the chief minister in 2015, causing a purported loss of Rs 371 crore to the state exchequer.