The Telangana High Court on May 18 pulled up retired Justice P Swaroop Reddy of the Hyderabad High Court. The Court criticized him for levelling allegations against sitting Justice MS Ramachandra Rao. Justice Reddy is the Chairman of the Telangana Admission and Fee Regulatory Committee (TAFRC). He sought Justice Rao’s recusal from hearing a batch of petitions challenging a Telangana government order. The order had fixed the fee for PG Medical Courses on the advice of the TAFRC.
In his memo, the Chairman accused the sitting Judge of prejudice on various counts. This included prejudice against the state, people, Chief Minister, and Telangana itself. In addition, he contended that writ petitions stand beyond Justice Rao’s roster.
The fee hike petition had initially been placed before a single Judge. However, he had transferred it to a two-Judge Division Bench. After the Chief Justice agreed that it was an urgent matter, the petition was placed before the Bench of Justice Rao and Justice K Lakshman. This was the only Bench hearing cases during the lockdown.
On taking the matter up for hearing, the Court sought detailed reasoning from TAFRC as to why it recommended a hike between 118% to 154% in the fees. The State contended that the matter was not of an urgent nature. However, the Court decided to treat it as urgent and gave the TAFRC a day’s time to respond.
Justice Reddy claimed in his memo that he had met Justice Rao at a dinner party hosted by a former Judge where he criticised “Telangana people, its Chief Minister and the state and also a sitting judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court“. He also said that a contempt case had been started by Justice Rao against him in his capacity as the TAFRC Chairman. However, that never went anywhere.
Justice Reddy added that Justice Rao had previously passed unfavourable judgements against the state, and passed unwarranted comments against the TAFRC.
The Division Bench recused from hearing the matter, not on account of there being any merit in the allegations, but owing to the matter being vitiated by Justice Reddy’s allegations. The Court said:
“…On account of the antics of the Chairman of the TAFRC the whole atmosphere has got vitiated, and since we do not wish to behave like him, while strongly denying each and every allegation leveled against one of us (MSRJ), we do not intend to take any action for contempt and we close all issues arising out of the Memo. We accordingly decline to initiate any proceedings for contempt, and recuse from hearing the matter and release the matter.”
On the question of passing unfavourable judgements, the Bench informed that those judgements held up before larger Benches. Thus, the orders were legally reasonable and sound, not prejudicial. The Court had also closed Justice Reddy’s contempt case two years ago. The Chairman ‘conveniently‘ left out this fact.
Furthermore, the Court termed the dinner party mentioned by Justice Reddy a ‘figment of imagination‘. Justice Rao remembers neither going to any such party nor talking to Justice Reddy there. Further, the Court pointed out that some orders will always go against some party. It mentioned that Justice Rao had passed orders in favour of the government as well in the past.
The Court stated that both judges on the Bench are persons born and raised in Telangana; have lived in the region for over 50 years. It refutes any allegations of prejudice against the State.
Contempt of Court
The Bench termed words used in the Memo submitted by Justice Reddy ‘unbecoming’ and said they ‘go beyond all levels of propriety’. The Court, relying on the recent Supreme Court judgement in Re: Vijay Kurle and Ors; held that the memo by the TAFRC Chairman falls in the category of interference of administration of justice. It prima facie amounts to criminal contempt. These attempts, the Court added, could also be viewed as Bench hunting.
However, the Bench expressed their confidence in the people and lawyers of the state of Telangana to know of the credibility of the two judges. Thus, the Court refrained from initiating contempt proceedings against Justice Reddy.