Hectic parleys are on within Poes Garden, home of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Her confidante, aide and whom she often referred to as her ‘sister’ – Sasikala Natarajan – continues to live in ‘Veda Nilayam’, Jayalalithaa’s home, summoning Ministers for meetings and according to sources, lobbying for the top spot in the ruling party – the post of General Secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Since the party’s inception in 1972, the post of General Secretary has been held by two people – founder and former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran and thereafter by Jayalalithaa.
But as Sasikala marches on to fulfill her political ambition, a Damocles’ sword continues to hang over her head – that of the Rs 58 crore Disproportionate Assets case currently awaiting orders on appeal in the Supreme Court.
Speaking exclusively to Firstpost, Special Public Prosecutor for the Karnataka government, BV Acharya, who is trying the case, said that the case against Sasikala, her sister in law Ilavarasi and nephew VN Sudhakaran is very much alive, despite the abatement of charges against prime accused Jayalalithaa who is no more. “The case will survive,” he said. “There is a charge of conspiracy too in this case. Only the appeal against Jayalalithaa will abate. Arguments are over and the case is posted for judgement. There can be no abatement of charges once the case is posted for judgement. The court has to give a verdict,” he said.
The Disproportionate Assets case, commonly known as the DA case, is 19 years old. In 1996, the then Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government slapped cases on rival Jayalalithaa and four others, accusing them of holding disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 66 crores. In 2014, a special court trying the case in Bengaluru convicted all four of possessing unexplained wealth and sentenced them to four years of jail time each, along with a Rs 100 crore fine. Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and the other two accused spent 21 days in jail, subsequently coming out on bail. On appeal in the Karnataka High Court, the trial court’s verdict was overturned – all four were acquitted. The Karnataka government, which took over the role of prosecutor once the case was shifted to Bengaluru, appealed in the apex court. Orders were reserved by Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy in June this year.
“It is not just about the Prevention of Corruption Act,” explained Acharya. “The charge of conspiracy is independent. Even if one conspirator dies, the case will go on,” he said.
Senior lawyers also point to a 2014 judgement delivered by the Supreme Court which they say has cleared up the legal point on this issue. They refer to the case of State of New Delhi represented by the CBI versus Jitender Singh, in which Justices Radhakrishnan and AK Sikri ruled that a special court set up to try a specific case or cases, can go on to try the other accused, even if the prime accused died during the trial.
“We can visualize a situation where a public servant dies at the fag end of the trial, by that time, several witnesses might have been examined and to hold that the entire trial would be vitiated due to death of a sole public servant would defeat the entire object and purpose of the PC Act, which is enacted for effective combating of corruption and to expedite cases related to corruption and bribery,” says the order. “The purpose of the PC Act is to make anti-corruption laws more effective in order to expedite the proceedings, provisions for day-to-day trial of cases, transparency with regard to grant of stay and exercise of powers of revision on interlocutory orders Page 36 36 have also been provided under the PC Act. Consequently, once the power has been exercised by the Special Judge under sub-section (3) of Section 4 of the PC Act to proceed against non-PC offences along with PC offences, the mere fact that the sole public servant dies after the exercise of powers under sub-section (3) of Section 4, will not divest the jurisdiction of the Special Judge or vitiate the proceedings pending before him.”
“The Supreme Court has already settled this,” said senior lawyer KM Vijayan. “If A1 is under PC (Prevention of Corruption) Act but other accused are under a non-PC Act and if the case is tried by Special Court – the court is not restricted in respect of PC Act alone. There is a special provision for Special Courts to try non-PC Acts along with the PC Act. The Supreme Court has said in this judgement that in such cases even if A1 dies, the cases against A2, A3 and A4 will not abate,” he stated.
“Now Supreme Court can say that the case can be heard afresh against A2, A3 and A4 but the case will definitely not abate with the death of a public servant,” he added.
Senior Supreme Court advocate KTS Tulsi explained to Firstpost the legalese in the case. “The charges may not abate against the others but the charges can be dismissed against the other accused due to the nature of this case,” said Tulsi.
The reason for this, according to him, is the fact that the prime accused, Jayalalithaa, was a public servant and the whole case surrounded the corruption allegations and conspiracy with the public servant to amass wealth illegally. “The public servant was the former Chief Minister,” he said. “Now that the public servant is not available any longer, once the appeal against Jaya abates, the others cannot be prosecuted.”
When queried about the 2014 judgement in Jitender Singh by the Supreme Court, Tulsi said that that would hold good only in two instances – 1) when the family of the deceased wants the appeal to go on in order to remove the blot on the name of the prime accused or 2) if property is involved and there is a dispute over it by legal heirs, which would mean that the property would get stuck.
“But in this case, there is no heir. I don’t think the political party will bother with continuing the appeal in order to clear her name or any such thing. So the other accused may well be discharged,” he said.
Will the death of Jayalalithaa bring legal relief for Sasikala who was staring at the possibility of four years in jail?
This case, which haunted Jayalalithaa for the most part of her political career, is likely to be top of mind for Sasikala as well as other leaders of the ruling party. As negotiations and power tussles play out within Poes Garden, the wheels of justice turn ever so slowly.
Updated Date: Dec 10, 2016 09:35:00 IST