Death confers an immunity which the deceased cannot savor. The trial and appeal proceedings against her abate. The Supreme Court was seized of the appeal made by the state of Karnataka against the Karnataka High Court order acquitting Jayalalithaa and Sasikala among others in the disproportionate assets case under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Obviously, the Supreme Court verdict of 14 February 2017 restoring the trial court conviction order and upending the high court acquittal order is seen to be targeting those alive Sasikala particularly but acquitting Jayalalithaa. But that is not in black and white. There are shades of grade.
Death brings to end the prosecution against a person but not against his property. This is a settled law. That is why the legal heirs have to file the income tax return on behalf of the deceased and in fact cough up the taxes due from out of the estate of the deceased. It therefore seems that with the restoration of the trial court verdict, Jayalalithaa’s estate will be held responsible for paying the fine of Rs 100 crore slapped on her by the trial court in Karnataka.
In the light of this legal position, it is well possible that the Poes Garden residence of the late chief minister Jayalalithaa may come under the auctioneer’s hammer assuming liquid and other assets of her estate are not enough to muster the Rs 100 crore fine. This would incidentally bring to an end the unseemly controversy over a substantial part of her property with Poes Garden residence being in the eye of the storm. The caretaker chief minister started a signature campaign a few days ago to nationalise it and declare it as her memorial only to spite his tormentor Sasikala. But that was always questionable given the fact that so far the question of her legal heirs has not been conclusively resolved. What is not questionable however is the imminent and probable move to auction her property to pay off her dues to the state including the fine of Rs 100 crore.
The Supreme Court of India in U. SUBHADRAMMA VS. STATE OF A.P had in July 2016 observed that property of a person who was accused of an offence of misappropriation but who died during the pendency of the criminal trial cannot be attached in the hands of his legal heirs on the technical ground that it is not possible to seek the consent of the district judge to attach the property of the deceased where he normally ‘resides’ or ‘carries’ on his business for the simple reason that he no longer ‘resides’ or ‘carries’ on his business there. It is respectfully submitted that the apex court took an hyper-technical, pedantic and semantic view of the criminal procedure code. In case of death the term ‘resided’ and ‘carried’ on should be substituted. The Supreme Court was right though in castigating the trial judge in that case for continuing the trial against the deceased accused ignoring the legal dictum that trial and appeal abate on death of the accused.
The facts of the Jayalalithaa case are different. She was alive when the trial took place. Therefore the Supreme Court order of 14 February 2017 only serves to restore the order and trial that took place while Jayalalithaa was alive and does not suffer from the vice that bedeviled the trial in the above U Subhadramma case. Therefore the law laid down by the apex court in U Subhadramma (supra) doesn’t apply to L’affaire Jayalalithaa and the only hope it offers to the legal heirs if any of Jayalalithaa is the semantics which can be corrected on an incuriam petition. Death indeed confers immunity from trial but not immunity from attachment of the deceased’s property.
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Updated Date: Feb 14, 2017 17:14:59 IST