At 83, if someone can blush and feel embarrassed at a question about how one is looked upon as a hero among a large section of lawyers and common people, then it will be safely assumed by those who know him well that he is none other than BV Acharya.
He is the one who has served as the special public prosecutor (SPP) in the disproportionate assets case against late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa and the closest anyone could have come to the post of chief ministership in Tamil Nadu, VK Sasikala, among other accused.
The case lasted 19 years in various courts — from Chennai to Delhi (Supreme Court), to Puducherry and Karnataka. Acharya worked for nine-and-a-half years in a case that has taken almost 21 years to reach some form of finality before the Supreme Court right from the trial court stage.
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And, sections of social media are agog with this line: "This is the time to remember the courage and integrity of (Special Public Prosecutor BV) Acharya and Special Judge Michael D'Cunha but for whom the accused would have got away".
Yet, when you point out that he is looked upon as a "hero" as this message suggests, Acharya laughs in the most embarrassed fashion to say, "No, no. I don’t want to take all that. I sincerely worked as a public prosecutor should do."
Acharya is very straight with his replies. When asked how tough was this assignment, his reply is: "I cannot claim I have done wonders. Most of the evidence was recorded in Chennai itself. Here it was only recalling some witnesses who had turned hostile and who had not been cross-examined by the earlier prosecutor. I had to only re-examine them."
"By the time they were recalled here, the DMK had returned to power in Tamil Nadu. And, all the witnesses gave evidence supporting my case. It certainly made my job easier because most of them were government servants so they stuck to their original line," said Acharya.
To the uninitiated, the case against Jayalalithaa came up on a complaint by Subramanian Swamy, BJP member of Parliament, in June 1996, accusing her, Sasikala, her sister-in-law Illavarasi and nephew VN Sudhakaran, of having amassed wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income. Over the years, the DMK went to the Supreme Court to say justice will not be done if the case was heard in Tamil Nadu or Puducherry.
It was when the case was transferred to Karnataka by the Supreme Court that the then chief justice of the high court, Justice NK Sodhi, suggested Acharya’s name. This was despite the state government not including his name in the list that was to be prepared in consultation with Sodhi. That was in February 2005.
In August 2012, Acharya came under unusual pressure from the then BJP government in Karnataka to give up either the post of the SPP or that of advocate-general, a post that he has held more than half a dozen times regardless of the party in power. Acharya knew what the game was. He decided to resign from the post of advocate-general.
"The other side knew that I cannot be won over so the best was to get me to resign, so that others can be compromised. When all other efforts failed, they got a private complaint filed against him since I was chairman of an educational institution. That was the final straw," said Acharya.
The sessions court ordered an investigation into the complaint which had alleged payment of some higher amount to some teachers. "But, the high court quashed the complaint and even ordered payment of Rs 50,000 in damages. The moment this decision came, I resigned as SPP."
That was in August 2012. He was again appointed SPP in 2015 after the Supreme Court held that Bhawani Singh was not qualified to hold the post.
There was another kind of pressure too.
"I don’t want to give any details. There have been so many temptations, incentives and offers through so many people, through friends and relatives, all of which I refused over the years," said Acharya.
All through your career? "Yes. So many people used to say somebody from Tamil Nadu wants to have a one-on-one appointment with you. I consistently refused. I knew what they were trying to do."
What have those friends been telling you since the verdict came ? Acharya's first response is a very hearty laugh. "I don’t even know who those friends are."
So, what part of the case was the toughest? "In terms of exertion," he said, "I can say the arguments before the Supreme Court. They went on for three months."
Otherwise, Acharya has felt that the "case was foolproof. It was impossible for any judge to order acquittal because evidence was unflinchingly based on documents to prove disproportionate assets. It’s a matter of record".
Yet, this statement can come only from Acharya: "I wouldn’t say I'm happy. I am fully satisfied that justice has been done and our efforts are well-rewarded."
Published Date: Feb 15, 2017 10:05 am | Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 10:05 am