The Andhra Pradesh High Court has quashed the first information report (FIR) registered against the former Additional Advocate General (AAG) of the State, Dammalapati Srinivas in connection with the Amaravati land scam (Dammalapati Srinivas v. The State of Andhra Pradesh).
Srinivas had been charged with offenses under the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act for allegedly taking advantage of his position to illegally purchase land in the Amaravati capital region before the limits of the new capital were notified.
Despite finding that the office of an AAG falls within the definition of a public servant, Justice Cheekati Manavendranath Roy held that the former AAG had no opportunity to involve himself in any statutory or constitutional functions performed by the office of the Advocate General. Therefore, it was deduced that Srinivas had no opportunity to know the exact location of the capital, which as per the prosecution itself was confidential.
The court observed that there is absolutely nothing to indicate either in the F.I.R or in the preliminary inquiry report as to how the accused was privy to the said confidential information. The complainant in the case had claimed that the sale transactions by the former AAG, his family members, and his close associates took place before the notification of the capital's limits was issued in December 2014. A preliminary inquiry had been conducted by the police into the allegations and a report had been submitted stating that Srinivas had misused his official position as he was privy to the information regarding the exact location of the capital area and he divulged this information to his relatives and close associates who then purchased land in the area for paltry consideration from farmers. Senior Advocate Siddarth Luthra who argued for the former AAG vehemently contested the allegations and findings of the police.
He argued that the information regarding the likely location of the capital city was very much in the public domain and merely buying lands in such a location was the constitutional right of the accused and his family members. Therefore, the same could not attract an offense under the Prevention of Corruption Act. It was further submitted that the transaction was a genuine sale of private land and the accused persons have purchased the lands for valid sale considerations, willingly sold by the owners.
However, Advocate General S Sriram contended that the former AAG acted upon such information without authorization, and he committed a breach of trust as he was not expected to divulge confidential information before its official notification to anyone, including family members.
It was submitted that A-1 has acted upon such information unauthorisedly and indulged in purchasing lands either in his name or in the name of his family members and close associates that it partakes the character of breach of trust punishable under Section 409 of IPC. Justice Roy said that it was a peculiar case in that the prosecution sought to criminalize a private sale that happened almost 6 years ago by invoking the concept of insider trading and on the ground that the petitioners did not disclose to the sellers of the lands that the capital city was going to be located in the said area. The High Court noted that no criminal liability could be fastened on the former AAG simply based on surmises and conjectures and it could not be inferred that just because he was acquainted with political leaders, he was privy to confidential information.
The court said that political leaders would be in public life and many people and advocates would have some acquaintance with them. It cannot be inferred or presumed or held that on account of such acquaintance that A-1 as an Additional Advocate-General was privy to the said information. Further, the Court pertinently pointed out that the information regarding the location of the capital for Andhra Pradesh was not a secret, confidential, or only within the knowledge of certain officials at all. In this regard, the Court discussed several news articles published by prominent media houses.
The order said that the aforesaid news items publishing even the names of the villages that would form part of the capital region or that would come within the purview of the capital region belies the allegation in FIR. Justice Roy also placed reliance on the judgment of the Supreme Court in DB Basnett v. The Collector, East District, Gangtok, Sikkim to reiterate that the right to acquire property continues to be a constitutional right, legal right, and also a human right. Therefore, observing that judicial process should not be an instrument of oppression, or, needless harassment”, the High Court quashed the FIR while granting liberty to the former AAG to claim compensation or damages against the complainant for launching frivolous criminal proceedings against him.