What is the Supreme Court’s Decision in the Amaravati Land Scam?

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Excerpt

Supreme Court stays interim order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court which imposed a gag order on media from reporting details about an FIR registered on the alleged “illegal purchase” of land in Amaravati

Amaravati – New Capital City

After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and New Andhra Pradesh, the state of Andhra Pradesh was left with no capital city. Soon after the separation, a proposal was made in the Andhra Pradesh legislature to make Amaravati as New Capital city.

The Andhra Pradesh government, through the CRDA, pooled over 33,000 acres of land to build the state’s new capital city Amaravati in 2015. For every acre of wetland taken from farmers, the Andhra Pradesh government returned 1,000 sq. yards of residential and 450 sq. yards of commercial plots. And the government made a promise to those farmers that it would develop infrastructure in the layouts.

In this process, many reports alleged that while allocating land, many people have produced fake documents and allotted lands. The allegations include abuse of official positions in the state, sharing of privileged information, and causing loss to the public exchequer during the previous Telugu Desam Party regime. As this issue was rising, the CM, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s cabinet approved a proposal to have 3 capitals for Andhra Pradesh this year, which made farmers of the Amaravati region, activists, and political parties to protest against the said proposal.

Illegal Purchase of Land

Andhra Pradesh police exposed a huge land scam in Amaravati. As per reports by CID, 797 white ration cardholders, each with less than Rs. 5000 monthly income bought lands in Amaravati worth Rs. 220 crores. In 2014-15, they bought 761 acres of land. It was found that most of the buyers are from Guntur, where 529 don’t have PAN cards issued in their names.

Many reports are stating that many MLAs and ministers have purchased lands of the poor at cheap rates. where some lands were purchased in the names of benamis and proxies. According to CRDA records, out of 33,000 acres of land pooled to create the capital city Amaravati, 2028 acres are assigned lands.

Request for CBI Probe

The allegations pertained to the purchase of land by Srinivas and others in Amaravati after plans to make Amaravati the new capital were announced. Soon after Jagan Mohan Reddy came to power, he formed a committee to probe into the allegations, and he also recommended the CBI probe on March 23, 2020. In September, the state received a complaint on irregularities in land deals, thereafter the police held an inquiry and registered an FIR on September 15, 2020. The said FIR accused Srinivas as “he used his official position to know the plan and before the announcement he bought lands in Amaravati”. The FIR mentioned that Srinivas through his acquaintances, associates, and close relatives bought lands for himself and his wife. Apart from Srinivas, the FIR contained 12 names including 2 daughters of Justice NV Ramana (Senior Supreme Court Judge). It shows offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Criminal breach of trust, and cheating under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Gag Order by the High Court

The High Court of Andhra Pradesh issued a gag order which stopped further investigation and barred the state from taking any coercive action against the persons named in the FIR. This order was passed within hours of the registration of FIR on September 15, 2020. The Court also issued a gag order to the media, not to publish any information about the details of the FIR

SC Stays Andhra Pradesh HC’s Gag Order to Media

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on 25th November stayed the Andhra Pradesh High Court direction restraining the media from publishing news regarding an FIR lodged on alleged irregularities in land transactions in Amaravati. But it did not impose any stay on other directions of the High Court including the stay on the probe into the FIR matter.

The Court directed the High Court not to further decide anything in this case until the last week of January month 2021. The decision was made in an appeal filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh against the September 15 order of the High Court. The Apex Court directed Srinivas to file a response and posted the matter for a hearing in the last week of January 2021.

Conclusion

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has stayed the interim order passed by the Andhra Pradesh High Court until the last week of January 2021. The Court stayed the gag order on the media whereas no other orders of the High Court.


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