Be you ever so high, the law is above you, said Lord Denning. But Jayalalitha and her coterie appear to think different.
While small-time offenders are nabbed promptly, the sharks get away with murder and worse. Take this Govindaraj who was working as a Village Administrative Officer in a nondescript village in Salem District. He was trapped and arrested by the sleuths of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption in 2006 for demanding and accepting Rs.500/- from a villager for a solvency certificate. The case against the VAO was investigated swiftly. Sanction to prosecute him was obtained, charge-sheet was filed in the competent court, and trial was commenced and the case against Govindaraj ended up in his conviction in 2008, within two years from the date of registration of the case against him. Justice was thus swiftly served.
Gratifying indeed, but then some are always more equal. For the case against Jayalalitha Jayaram for possession of assets disproportionate to her known sources of income was registered in December 1996, and now, 17 long years later, it is still meandering, with no verdict in sight.
The recent order by a Supreme Court Division Bench headed by Justice B.S.Chauhan staying the trial against Jayalalitha for three weeks ensures that there is no harm done to ‘Amma’ till the elections are over in Tamil Nadu.
The twists and turns in Jayalalitha’s assets case make for an engrossing reading indeed. If it is advantage Jayalalitha one month, she would slide the next month. Surprisingly her stars will be on the ascendant quickly, but even before she will have stopped grinning ear to ear, her fortunes will take a knock yet again – all a classic game of snake and ladders.
Immediately after Jayalalitha came back to power in 2001, Jayalalitha predictably went all out to sabotage the case in every which way possible. Though technically the Directorate of Vigilance and Corruption (DVAC) didn’t come under her direct purview, it was her writ that was running there, as everywhere else anyway. So then she appointed Soundararajan, an SP level officer, not of IPS cadre but a promotee, to take charge of the case.
It must be remembered here that it was her government that had to prosecute her. Still none bothered to ensure prosecution was entrusted with some autonomous agency – with the result it all became a charade. And the plot was mapped out by Mr Soundararajan.
In 2001 he ensured that neither the case diaries nor any other relevant documents reached the original Investigating Officer Nallama Naidu. The sabotage was so meticulous that numerous witnesses who had stood by the prosecution earlier suddenly turned hostile one after another, and the case seemed on the verge of a collapse.
But an alert DMK General Secretary K.Anbalagan stepped in and appealed to the Supreme Court. Making some scathing observations over the way the prosecution was being conducted, the apex court transferred the case to Bengaluru, where the trial is still on.
But even after the trial was transferred to Bengaluru, Jayalalitha & company tried all the tricks in the books, and off the books too, to prolong the trial. After a protracted legal battle in which the SC seemed to come to her aid every time, the trial reached its final stages recently.
But wait. Did I say final? Well I did so in my enthusiasm, am afraid. For JJ had more aces up her sleeve. In a first in the legal history of the country, an accused files a petition before the Supreme Court seeking the appointment of a judge and a prosecutor of her choice. Their Lordships too give a patient hearing and order appointment of Bhavani Singh as the prosecutor.
Bhavani Singh was not in the panel of advocates sent by the Bengaluru HC to be appointed as prosecutor. But it seemed a matter of minor detail for the judges who granted the relief sought by the appellant, Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram.
Subsequently Bhavani Singh, “a brilliant legal brain in the country” – in the words of the SC, that is – sought adjournments at the drop of a hat, prolonging the trial. When the shrewd Special Court Judge Michael D. Cunha seemed to be losing his patience with the prosecutor’s dilatory tactics, Bhavani Singh feigned illness and submitted necessary medical certificate too. But the judge was not impressed, and he ordered Bhavani Singh to commence arguments without any further dilly-dallying. But an adamant Singh, continued to remain absent from the Court, which prompted stern action by the Court. The Special Judge fined Bhavani Singh – his fees for two days.
As if he was waiting exactly for such a turn of events, Bhavani Singh promptly moved the Karnataka HC against the Special Judge’s order and sought a stay of the trial. But Justice Sathyanarana snubbed him resoundingly.
In a sternly worded order, the Karnataka HC dismissed the petition. The judge observed “It is seen that the Special Public Prosecutor appointed in the said case in spite of several rescheduling of dates fixing to accommodate him to recommence the arguments, on one or the other pretext, has taken time by producing medical certificates. When the Court directed him to furnish the name of the doctor who issued the certificate, the same has not been given. In effect, it is seen that every possible attempt is being made by the Special Public Prosecutor to prolong the matter for reasons best known to him.”
The Judge went on to add, “On going through the entire order sheet, which is produced by the counsel for petitioner herein, it clearly indicates that the Special Public Prosecutor, who is specifically appointed to see that the matter is expedited and reaches conclusion at the earliest, does not seem to have any inclination to co-operate with the Court in as much as he is trying to confront the Court at every stage for commencing arguments and the matter is pending for more than seventeen years. In. that view of the matter, the Court below has taken extreme step of coercing the Special Public Prosecutor to commence the arguments. At this juncture, if this Court interferes either in staying the order or modify the order, it will demoralise the Special Court and its Judge, who is making all efforts to see that the matter is disposed of at the earliest on a time-bound basis. When the entire order sheet which is produced before the Court is perused, it is seen that there is an attempt on one side by the accused, continuously keeping away from the Court by filing exemption petition from appearance, and by the prosecution on the other hand seeking time for restarting the arguments; subjecting the Court under severe stress.”
The order of the Karnataka HC speaks for itself. Any advocate with little sense of law will think twice before appealing against such a ruling . But Bhavani Singh apparently knew better.
He pleaded before the SC to allow him time to recover from his poor health condition and then fight the case with due diligence. When the case came up before a bench comprising Justices B.S.Chauhan and Chellameswar, Justice B.S.Chauhan duly issued notice to the DVAC on the plea of Bhavani Singh. What would the DVAC would have to say about the health condition of Bhavani Singh is anybody’s guess.
After issuing notices, Justice Chauhan went on to add in his interim order that ” we request the learned Special Judge, XXXVI Addl. City Civil & Session Judge, Bangalore to keep the proceedings in abeyance only for a period of three weeks, i.e. 28th April, 2014 and may resume the same immediately after 28th April, 2014. The petitioner may appear on day to day basis after 28th April, 2014. In case the petitioner does not recover, we may ask him to make an application before the High Court to discharge him and appoint a new Special Public Prosecutor.”
Justice Chauhan could have very well directed the Karnataka HC to appoint a suitable counsel to conduct the case further if Bhavani Singh still remained indisposed at the end of the third week too. But the order seeks to keep Bhavani Singh in the picture. He can now file a fresh plea of illness and perhaps the SC can monitor his illness on a weekly basis to ensure that he gets proper treatment, never mind the case remaining stalled.
It is pertinent to note that only in the month of March, Justice Lodha of the SC ordered that trials involving politicians should be completed within a year and indeed conducted on a day –to–day basis.
DMK Chief Karunanidhi’ astutely noted that Bhavani Singh burnt away more than Rs 20 lakh in filing the SLP in the SC against a fine amount of Rs.1.30 lakhs ! He seems to smell a conspiracy by Jaya and others in which Bhavani Singh is only a pawn, a suspicion that cannot be brushed aside lightly.
But the story is not complete – for the moment that is – without mentioning yet another curious development in the case, this one in the Madras HC. Before the trial was transferred by SC to Bengaluru, the Special Court in Chennai had issued orders of attachment on some properties alleged to be involved in the assets case. The petition to release the properties filed by the accused were dismissed by the then Special Court in 2000.
After 14 long years, the accused chose to challenge the order yet again before the Madras High Court !!!!. In the normal course the petition would have been dismissed with a direction to the petitioner to approach the Karnataka High Court since the case had been transferred by SC to Karnataka. But Justice Aruna Jegadeesan for reasons best known to her, not only gave a patient hearing but also set aside the 2000 Special Court order.
She went to the extent of recording a finding that many of the assets involved in the Jaya assets case don’t belong to the accused at all !!!. This is way beyond the brief of the learned judge, lawyers point out. And who represented the DVAC in the case? Advocate Inbadurai, an ADMK card-holder. All this seem to make a mockery of the entire judicial system – but who cares?
Whether the Bengaluru special judge will care indeed and whether he will take cognizance of Aruna Jagadeesan’s order remains to be seen.
For more developments on this juridical thriller, watch this space.