In a significant legal development, the Supreme Court of India recently declined to interfere with the Madras High Court’s suomotu order that reopened the acquittal of Tamil Nadu Minister K. Ponmudi and his wife, P. Visalatchi, in a disproportionate assets case. The apex court commended Justice AnandVenkatesh of the Madras High Court for issuing the suo motuorder and declined to entertain the petitions filed by Ponmudiand Visalatchi. Instead, it clarified that the accused are free to present their contentions before the Madras High Court.
This case stems from a suo motu revision initiated by Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court, who raised concerns regarding the transfer of the case against Tamil Nadu’s Higher Education Minister, K. Ponmudi. The transfer had occurred from the District Judge at Villupuram to the District Judge at Vellore, a move that Justice Venkatesh considered to be “ex-facie illegal and non-est in the eye of the law.” Notably, the transfer had been ordered by the Madras High Court in its administrative capacity in July 2022. Expressing reservations about the transfer and the subsequent acquittal, Justice Venkatesh issued notices to both the Prosecutor and the accused, signaling a fresh hearing.
Challenging the Madras High Court’s order, Minister Ponmudiand his wife petitioned the Supreme Court. However, as soon as the matter came before the bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, it was apparent that the court was disinclined to entertain the challenge.
CJI Chandrachud emphasized that the case is currently pending before a single bench of the High Court, and he advised Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, to present their legal arguments there. He mentioned, “You argue before the High Court that it has no suo motu power.”
The Chief Justice expressed concerns about the way the trial was transferred and lauded Justice Anand Venkatesh for his actions. “Thank God that we have judges like Anand Venkatesh in High Courts. Look at the conduct. The Chief Justice transfers the trial from one district to another district. Where is that power? There is no administrative power to transfer a trial. It is a judicial power,” CJI Chandrachud stated. He continued by emphasizing that the case was now pending before a different judge, and the trial ended in an acquittal.
In CJI’s view, Justice Anand Venkatesh’s observations were entirely appropriate, and he highlighted that the judge had merely issued notice to the prosecution and the accused while the matter still awaited resolution before the High Court.
However, Sibal expressed his concern that the earlier order had contained strong adverse observations, making further arguments seem futile. He questioned the validity of setting aside the trial court’s judgment based on an administrative order of transfer. He pointed out that the High Court’s administrative judge had approved the transfer, further complicating the issue.
CJI Chandrachud highlighted the operative portion of the order, which had simply issued notice to the prosecution and the accused. He reiterated that the petitioners were free to raise their objections before the single judge in the High Court.
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Ponmudi’s wife, emphasized that she was not involved in the transfer from one district to another and that the transfer had been authorized by the Chief Justice.
The Supreme Court reiterated that there was nothing improper in the order, emphasizing the importance of the judiciary in upholding the rule of law. The court applauded Justice AnandVenkatesh’s actions in this case.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for an intervenor, alleged collusion between the State Government and the accused. He called for the appointment of a Special Public Prosecutor or an amicus curiae, given that the accused was still a minister. CJI Chandrachud deferred the issue to the High Court, which would decide the appropriate course of action.
The bench, comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, issued the following order:
“The single judge is still seized with the proceedings in which the impugned order was passed on 10.08.2023. The order has merely issued notice in the suo motu criminal revision to the Prosecutor and the accused. We are not inclined to entertain the Special Leave Petitions at the present stage. The petitioners would be at liberty to urge all appropriate grievances before the single judge. We clarify that these objections of the accused would be considered on their own merits by the single bench on which we have not expressed any opinion whatsoever.”
It Is worth noting that the State Department of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption has also filed a petition challenging the same order. However, since the State’s petition was not listed during this hearing, the bench refrained from passing any order on that matter.
This case reflects the judiciary’s vigilance in upholding court orders, protecting the rule of law, and ensuring that justice prevails. It highlights the importance of respecting the judicial process and the rights of individuals, even when they hold public office.
The case Involving Minister Ponmudi and the subsequent suomotu revisions initiated by Justice Anand Venkatesh underscore the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding justice and upholding the rule of law.