These are unfortunate times when people with power, clout and money can get away with anything. Rules and Law are only for the poor and downtrodden and the rich and mighty always bend the rules to suit their needs.
This is a classic case of a powerful group defying the Supreme Court and ensuring their illegal activities go unnoticed.
Shanmuga Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy (SASTRA) Deemed to be University, commenced in 1984 offers various courses in Arts, Sciences, Law and management. This University, basically a brahminical institution, declares “Think Merit, Think Transparency, and Think SASTRA” as its motto. But, the actions of SASTRA are nothing but opaque, which we would see in detail.
The government of Tamil Nadu proposed to construct an open prison for aged prisoners and white collar offenders in the district of Thanjavur and allotted 58.17 acres of land to the Tamil Nadu Prison Department in G.O Ms No. 214 Education (NU.1) Department dated 12.03.1985. The land was hitherto held by Education Department for Thanjavur Tamil University.
The land allotted for open prison at Thirumalaisamudram Village, Thanjavur District was adjacent to SASTRA group of institutions. The institution immediately took objection to the construction of open prison and started fencing the government land earmarked for open prison. The encroachment was brought to the notice of the government and the Commissioner of Land Administration, immediately issued an order under Revenue Standing Order 23 A (ii) to the prison department to take possession of the land.
SASTRA immediately approached the court and obtained a stay order on 2 December 1988. Though it was only a restraining order, SASTRA commenced construction of buildings like hostels, class rooms, etc. in around 20 acres of land. SASTRA in the meanwhile, kept sending various representations which were all turned down by successive governments.
SASTRA then offered an alternate land to the government in Pudukottai to an extent of 70 acres which too was turned down by the government. Against this order, SASTRA approached the Madras High Court and the matter was listed before the infamous Justice CS.Karnan. Justice CS.Karnan, initially dismissed SASTRA’s claim by his order dated 04.09.2014. However, to the surprise of everyone, even without notice to government, Justice CS.Karnan, unilaterally modified his order on 18.12.2014 in favour of SASTRA.
The Government immediately preferred an appeal against this fraudulent order and a Division Bench comprising Justice Nooty Ram Mohana Rao and Justice SM.Subramaniam gave a split verdict. Justice Ram Mohana Rao decided that the government should collect Rs.10 crores from SASTRA and condone the encroachment. However, Justice SM.Subramaniam differed. In a scathing order he directed the government to retrieve the encroached land. Some of the observations of Justice SM.Subramaniam are reproduced below :
“SASTRA wanted to keep the litigation pending for ever without allowing the authorities and the Courts to give quietus in the subject matter. Thus, the respondents are to be treated as chronic offenders of encroaching the Government land in view of the fact that they never allowed the litigation to stop and continued the same one way or other in order to continue their possession in the encroached land, measuring to a larger extent of 58.17 acres.
SASTRA deemed University filed lengthy affidavit describing their academic achievements and the charities provided by them to the public in general. This Court wishes to ask a question under whose cost ? Persons stealthily and collectively encroaching Government land and pouring Crocodile tears by stating they are doing charity to the public is nothing but a mockery on the Constitution of this Great Nation and the law in force on the land. It is as bad as a story that a thief after committing a burglary or theft of valuables contributed part of the same for charity. Can the thief be acquitted on this ground under law. Thief is a thief and he should be dealt with in accordance with law. SASTRA is owning and in possession of more than 60 acres of land adjacent to the Government land and even today they are keeping such a vast extent of land vacant for all future purposes. The attitude and the conduct of the respondent to be weighed and measured in scales. The property encroached by the respondent-Institution is to the extent of 58.17 acres. By directing the respondent-Institution to deposit 10 crores within 30 days cannot be a ground to condone the criminal trespass and the offence of encroachment committed by them.
Claim of SASTRA that they are doing charity to the local people cannot have any significance and this Court would like to state that everyone of the citizen in this Great Nation is doing charity to the extent possible and within his capacity. Even paying one rupee for the public purpose is a charity. Contribution may differ from person to person in accord with his financial position and status. However, an idea of charity cannot be measured in relation to the quantum of money contributed. Thus, such a pleading made by the respondent-Institution seems to be very innocuous and a person doing charity and making a tom-tom in the public has to be characterised in a different manner since he is the person encroached the Government land belongs to the citizen of this country.”
Interestingly, SASTRA made a claim before the High Court that the encroached land was given to them by the late Chief Minister MGR orally and the then Electricity Minister Panruti S.Ramachandran was present during such oral allotment (!!!).
However, the court rejected this contention by observing “
“Though the respondents (SASTRA) repeatedly claiming the assignment of land on the ground that the then Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu acceded to the personal request of the Trustees and directed possession to be given to the College and the Electricity Minister Panruti S.Ramachandran, was also present in the said meeting, the respondents herein nowhere in their earlier proceedings has taken this ground. Therefore, such a pleading made in the Writ Petition is after thought and oral promises alleged to have been given by the then Hon’ble Chief Minister, which is not reduced in writing cannot be considered in this Writ Appeal. Even assuming that such an oral promise was given by the then Hon’ble Chief Minister in the year 1985, certainly, the said promise would have been implemented by the Revenue Officials. A word from the Hon’ble Chief Minister will certainly be carried out and implemented by the officials concerned, but, no such thing happened in the case of the respondents herein. Even in earlier writ proceedings, the aforesaid plea had not been taken by the respondents.”
Due to this split verdict, the matter was referred to a third Judge of the Madras High Court and Justice CV.Karthikeyan, categorically ruled that SASTRA’s claim is unjustified and the government land has to be retrieved.
In his order, Justice Karthikeyan brilliantly observed thus :
“In our State, in Thanjavur, when the Government had allotted lands for construction of an Open Air Prison, the respondents encroached those lands and claim that they are doing a service by educating adolescent children, when, as a matter of fact, they were doing disservice to a large class of adolescent children, who required guidance and assistance. Consequently, the respondents cannot claim assignment as a matter of right or even hold out that they would handover consideration for such assignment. They stand on a totally different footing from every other institution for whom assistant had been granted by the Government. The respondents have directly, by their encroachment, effectively prevented the reformation of a large number of successive generations of adolescent children for the past thirty years. From the year 1985 till this date, at least two generations of adolescent children have been deprived of the opportunity to reform themselves and the respondents have to be mulcted with the charge of directly turning a blind eye to the needs of society, to the need of wiping the tears of young mothers and sisters, who have witnessed their children and husband being drawn into a world of crimes without any hope even a slight hope, of being reformed or having an opportunity of being reformed. The future of the children had been destroyed by this act of encroachment.
Plain and simple, they have encroached the Government lands and at the same time prevented the construction of an Open Air Prison.
I would like to add that teachings and preachings made, standing on encroached soil, would only soil the values and ethics of such teachings and preachings. The respondents must realise that the officials, who granted permission to construct buildings, who turned a blind eye to the encroachment made by them are officials who have actually acted to the direct detriment of the values, which the respondents proclaim to adhere. (emphasis supplied)
The respondents have more than abundant additional unused lands and they would be serving a far greater cause, if they voluntarily vacate and construct the buildings in their own lands. They must realise that they have prevented the construction of an Open Air Prison, which would also have imparted education through reformation to an equal number of adolescent children. By the act of encroachment, the respondents have directly prevented the reformation of these unfortunate adolescent children. Viewed from any angle, the respondents who proclaim to do public service, have also done public disservice. In the present case, the respondents have enjoyed 20.62 acres of lands for the past more than 30 years without paying a single naya paise for such occupation.”
SASTRA swiftly went to the Supreme Court against this order. But, SC dismissed SASTRA’s SLP on 14 September 2018.
Asuthosh Shukla, IPS, as ADGP Prisons, sent proposals to the Chief Engineer, Tamil Nadu Police Housing Corporation to prepare a plan and estimate for construction of open prison. He also wrote to the Thanjavur District Collector Annadurai IAS, to retrieve the land and handover the possession of the land to Prison Department.
When Asuthosh Shukla was contacted for this story, he refused to comment, as he is not heading the prison department anymore.
Senthil, an RTI activist, on 21 September 2018, immediately after the dismissal of SLP by the Supreme Court addressed the Chief Secretary, Commissioner of Land Administration, Addl DGP Prisons, and District Collector Thanjavur to initiate action to demolish the illegal constructions by SASTRA and to restore the land to Prison department. He has in his representation also pointed out that failure to implement the order would amount to Contempt of Court.
Speaking to Savukku, Senthil said, “This is a clear case of contempt of court. Even after the Supreme Court turned down SASTRA’s request, the authorities are not taking any action to retrieve the land. I was told that former Chief Secretary, Girija Vaidhyanathan was favouring SASTRA group and hence no action. However, I have trust in the new Chief Secretary, who is an officer of integrity. If action is not taken to retrieve the encroached land, I would not hesitate to move the court for the government of Tamil Nadu’s continuous contempt of both Madras HC and the Supreme Court”.
Senthil’s allegations are not misplaced. Former Chief Secretary Girija Vaidhyanathan, had spoken to District Collector Thanjavur several times in favour of SASTRA add sources. Sources also add that Jayakodi, IAS, Commissioner for Revenue Administration who recorded in the file that condoning the encroachment of government lands by # SASTRA would set a bad precedent was chided by the former Chief Secretary Ms.Girija Vaidhyanathan.
An officer preview to a meeting in this regard with the Chief Minister where the CS Girija Vaidhyanathan was present, when CM suggested to the CS that the land may be restored to the Prison Department, Girija had reportedly remarked, “they are just prisoners. What’s the difference whether they are confined in Thanjavur or Pudukottai ? Let us take the alternate land and condone the encroachment”.
Apart from Girija Vaidhyanathan, a well known power broker S.Gurumurthy, has thrown his weight behind SASTRA and has met the state’s governor Banwarilal Purohit several times to mount pressure on the state administration to condone the land encroachment by SASTRA. During the visit by TN CM Edappadi Palanisamy to Raj Bhavan last month, people from the management of SASTRA group and Gurumurthy were present, add a source from Raj Bhavan.
The calls to Annadurai IAS, District Collector, Thanjavur for his comments went unanswered. He did not respond to WhatsApp messages sent by us seeking his comments. According to informed sources in Thanjavur, the SASTRA group, use to allot more than a dozen seats in various disciplines in its constituent colleges to Annadurai, who in turn makes money with it. Annadurai’s integrity is questionable, told a journalist from Thanjavur, who did not wish to be named.
Though the doors of all legal forums are shut, the SASTRA management is very confident of getting a favourable order – courtesy Mylapore Broker S.Gurumurthy. Sources add, that Gurumurthy has promised SASTRA that, the matter will be taken up to Home Minister Amit Shah, to mount pressure on TN government for a favourable order.
Whether Edappadi Palanisamy will retrieve the land from SASTRA and construct an open prison for juveniles and elders – the first of its kind in the state or buckle under pressure, remains to be seen.