The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Tuesday, 19 September, said it would deliver a verdict within two days on the quash petition filed by former chief minister and TDP president N Chandrababu Naidu, challenging his arrest in a case related to a scam in the AP State Skill Development Corporation (APSSDC) project on 9 September.
The counsels appearing for Chandrababu Naidu and those for the Crime Investigation Department (CID), battled all day to gain an upper hand in the court.
Meanwhile, the CID filed another petition in the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Court in Vijayawada, seeking a Prisoner Transit (PT) warrant against Chandrababu Naidu for questioning him regarding the Fibrenet scam.
Chandrababu Naidu’s counsel and Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve, appearing virtually, held that the FIR that was issued on the complaint was illegal and that after the FIR was issued, the CID only filed a memo, as an addendum to the FIR, with the court.
He based his arguments on the 2018 amendment made to the Prevention of Corruption Act (17A) requiring the investigation agency to obtain prior permission from the Governor before arresting Naidu in the case.
He argued that the CID, though it was aware of the 17A provision, deliberately ignored it while arresting Nadiu who was the chief minister of the state at the time when the skill development project was implemented.
He said the argument that the 17 A was not applicable to Naidu since he was not chief minister now, did not hold water. He said the amendment was made to the act to prevent situations exactly similar to the one his client (Naidu) was facing. It was meant to protect such people from political witch-hunting.
Salve said that there was no substance in the counter that the CID filed since it only parroted the allegations it had made in the past.
He maintained that the court should protect an individual’s freedom when it was at stake. He was emphatic that Naidu’s arrest was politically motivated since the state Assembly election was due in less than one year.
He said the incumbent government was misusing its authority by listing Naidu as A1 in the case.
Questions FIR holding CM responsible
Salve added that skill development centres were set up and handed over to the government. Even the complaint on which the CID issued an FIR did not say that skill development centres were not set up, he added.
He wanted to know how the chief minister could be held responsible when there were irregularities in the payment of tax at a stage down below as the entire case was turning out to be a tax-related one.
Salve wanted to know how the skill development case attracted the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
“The CID is alleging that private companies had benefited from this deal and if that were true how come the central investigation agencies were not involved in the investigation of the case?” he questioned.
Supreme Court lawyer Mukul Rohatgi, and other counsels appearing for the CID, maintained that section 17 A of the Prevention of Corruption Act is not applicable to Chandrababu Naidu.
They pointed out that there was something fishy since the beginning, as the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that was signed for implementing the project did not even have the date on it. Later the skill development corporation reached an agreement with Design Tech.
‘Government acting in a transparent manner’
They said the present government was acting in a very transparent manner. The contention that since Nadiu’s name was not in the FIR, he could not be arrested was not tenable. Even during the trial of a case, the investigation agencies could include fresh names in the list of the accused, the counsels said.
The CID counsels argued that Naidu was calling his prosecution a form of political vendetta because he was the chief minister at the time when the project was implemented.
The government had no intention to harass him for political reasons, adding that if that were the case, the CID would have included his name in 2021 itself. As fresh evidence was unearthed, Naidu was listed as an accused, the counsels said.
The counsels said that the state government released its entire component of ₹371 crore to private companies even though the other partner of the project did not pay even a single rupee.
They wanted to know how the government could release its portion of the budget first which was out of the way and gave scope for suspicion. The counsels insisted that Chandrababu Naidu’s role was very much evident in the case.
CID seeks fresh warrant
The CID filed yet another petition in the ACB Court in Vijayawada, seeking a Prisoner Transit (PT) warrant against Chandrababu Naidu for questioning him on his role in what has come to be known as ₹121.93 crore Fibrenet scam. The court admitted the CID petition.
The CID listed Naidu as an accused in the case while filing prisoner transfer warrant No: 2916/2023.
The charge against Naidu is that a contractor for the Fibrenet project was awarded to Terasoft, a blacklisted company, in violation of the rules.
The CID registered the case in 2021 and listed 19 persons, as the accused.