SC cites ‘fundamental right to get justice’ as it transfers Jagan uncle murder trial to Telangana

Vivekananda Reddy, the paternal uncle of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy was found dead under suspicious circumstances on 15 March, 2019.

BySNV Sudhir

Published Nov 29, 2022 | 11:58 AM Updated Nov 29, 2022 | 4:10 PM

YS Vivekananda Reddy with YS Jagan Mohan Reddy

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 29 November, transferred the trial of the murder of former minister YS Vivekananda Reddy from Andhra Pradesh to the Special CBI Court in Hyderabad.

The Supreme Court, on 19 October, consented to the transfer of the trial of the murder of Vivekananda Reddy to another state but reserved its judgment.

Vivekananda Reddy, the paternal uncle of Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy — and brother of late Congress strongman and former chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy — was found dead with injuries under suspicious circumstances at his Pulivendula residence on 15 March, 2019, days before the general elections.

A bench comprising Justice MR Shah and Justice MM Sundresh ordered the transfer on a petition filed by the daughter of Vivekananda Reddy, Suneetha Narreddy, seeking a direction that the investigation be transferred to any other state and that it be monitored by a retired high court judge.

What the court order said

“Considering the facts and circumstances, it cannot be said that the apprehension on the part of the petitioners, being daughter and wife of the deceased that there may not be fair trial and there may not be an independent and fair investigation with respect to further investigation on larger conspiracy and destruction of evidence at the scene of the crime, is imaginary and/or has no substance at all,” said the court on Tuesday.

“The petitioners being daughter and wife of the deceased have a fundamental right to get justice as
victims and they have a legitimate expectation that the criminal trial is conducted in a fair manner,” said the operating part of the order issued by the apex court bench.

The order further said: “Under the circumstances, we are of the opinion that this is a case to transfer the trial and other investigation on larger conspiracy and destruction of evidence, by a State other than the State of Andhra Pradesh. As the settled position of law, Justice is not only to be done, but also seen to have been done…Free and fair trial is a sine qua non of Article 21…”

It added: “If the trial is not free and fair then the judicial system would be at stake affecting the confidence of the public in the system. At the same time looking into the large number of witnesses to be examined during the trial and no hardship is caused to those witnesses, we are of the opinion that the trial be transferred to CBI Spl court Hyderabad.

It also said: “All relevant papers, chargesheet and supplementary charge-sheet to be transferred to CBI Court Hyderabad. The CBI is directed to complete the further investigation on the larger conspiracy and destruction of evidence…at the earliest. It must be done independently and in an unbiased manner.”

Suneetha’s counsel alleges interference

During the hearing in the past, arguing on behalf of Suneetha, senior counsel Siddharth Luthra told the apex court that the Kadapa MP YS Avinash Reddy — also a relative of chief minister Jagan — was interfering in the process of the investigation.

The CBI could not complete the investigation because of the hurdles Avinash Reddy created by influencing witnesses and local authorities, Luthra claimed.

He further argued that the accused were also threatening the witnesses in the case.

The local inspector, Shankaraiah, who was suspended for not conducting a proper inquiry at the time of the incident, was later given a promotion by the state government.

He also told the bench that the accused, who are currently in jail, were coming out on the pretext of ill health. They were holding “darbars” in the hospital and issuing threats to the witnesses, he said.

Even the CBI investigating officer was threatened and implicated in a false case, with an FIR registered against him, Luthra said.

State’s counter-argument

Arguing on behalf of the government, senior counsel S Niranjan Reddy said that the state was providing 1+1 security to the witness in the case, as per the directions given by a lower court.

During the arguments, CBI counsel KM Natarajan said that, in view of the special circumstances in Kadapa, they would need at least six months to complete the investigation.

After considering all the arguments, the Supreme Court bench observed that the threat to the life of witnesses was enough reason to transfer the matter to another state.

While Suneetha opted for either Telangana or Delhi, the CBI opposed Telangana and said it did not have an objection if it was transferred to Karnataka.

Three SITs to probe murder

Until now, the Andhra Pradesh government has constituted three SITs to investigate the murder. They examined at least 1,300 witnesses and conducted narco analyses on three suspects.

Since there was no progress in the case that was being investigated by the SITs, Suneetha approached the high court, seeking directions to hand over the probe to the CBI.

The CBI registered a case on 9 July, 2020, on the orders of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and took over the case registered at Pulivendula Police Station.

She subsequently approached the apex court seeking directions to shift the trial to another state.

In one of the charge sheets, the CBI is learnt to have said Kadapa MP Avinash Reddy propagated the theory that Vivekananda Reddy died due to a heart attack while the fact was that he was found in a pool of blood with injuries.