Jayalalithaa’s Acquittal: ‘Gold Refined by Fire’ or ‘Mighty Redefining Justice’?

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For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”- Abraham Lincoln.

Amma’s freedom has brought the denial of justice and curtailment of freedom instead of reinforcement, for the public at large. Be it Amma’s acquittal or Salman Khan’s bail after conviction, or Laloo Yadav being released on bail after conviction and jail sentence, it’s a severe denial of justice to each and every citizen of India, who now looks upon the entire judicial system with an element of serious doubt.

On May 11, 2015, Jayalalithaa regained the right to walk freely in her ‘Poes Garden’, as she along with the three other co-accused, was set free of all charges of possession of disproportionate assets, by the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court in its judgment which has witnessed some unprecedented events of political and regional chaos.

The Special Court constituted by the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court, took nearly 60 seconds on the day of final verdict to reach out to the joys of ‘Amma’s Fans’ by overturning Justice D’Cunha’s sternly lined verdict which was delivered on September 27, 2014, slapping Jayalalithaa with a simple imprisonment for 4 years and a fine of whopping Rs 100 crores.

Early Life

Jayalalithaa Jayaram, popularly known as ‘Jaya’ or ‘Amma’, was born in Taluk Pandavapura, of Mandya District in Mysore (now Karnataka). Recognized as an acclaimed film actress in Tamil feature films, she was introduced to this turf at the age of 15 by her mother who dreamt of her daughter to be a hailed film artist.

Winning National Film Award for the best feature film in Tamil, she also made her way to the top of film industry in 1973 when she received the Award for Best Actress for Pattikada Pattanama making her mother’s dream a bright reality.

Foundation of a Prodigious Political Career

Jayalalithaa owes her early political career to Ramachandran (former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) who, according to her, is instrumental in carving her political path to gigantic heights, which included his decision to propose Jayalalithaa as a member of Rajya Sabha considering her fluency in English language. Following Ramachandran’s death, an enormous political chaos struck AIADMK by thunder, which paved the way for Jayalalithaa to become the first female and the youngest Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in the year 1991.

Disproportionate Assets Case

Dr. Subramanian Swamy (BJP Leader), filed a complaint of possession of Disproportionate Assets by the accused before the Inspector General of Police in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) against Jayalalithaa, her advisor Sasikala Natarajan, niece Ilavarasi, and Sudakaran in the year 1996, based on the Income Tax Department’s report on Jayalalithaa which suggested that she misused her office of Chief Minister to accumulate wealth amounting to Rs. 66.65 Crores which was alleged to be deposited in her proxy accounts.

The impugned assets include bungalows and various farm houses and an agricultural land in Chennai, a tea plantation land in the hills of Nilgiri, cash deposits, valuable jewellery, industrial sheds, and a few luxury cars. In a departmental raid in her ‘Poes Garden’ residence, a gigantic stock of apparels, jewellery, shoes etc. were found along with other valuables.

Due to the massive political and regional support for Jayalalithaa in the State of Tamil Nadu, her case was shifted to the neighbouring state of Karnataka, as it was observed that due process of law will be vitiated if the proceedings went on in Tamil Nadu.

This case witnessed an unprecedented turn of events when the Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) BV Acharya, resigned from the post of Special Public Prosecutor in Jayalalithaa’s case as he claimed that he was threatened by ‘forces’ and was pressurized to turn down the case. A parallel travesty of the rule of law was ongoing when Bhawani Singh was appointed as SPP by the Tamil Nadu Government in the case following the resignation of BV Acharya. It was a grave mockery of the judicial system that was underplaying with the case having shifted to the State of Karnataka, and so also the appointment of the SPP by State of Tamil Nadu, that was against the well-established principles of the Criminal Justice system. The same concern was raised before the Hon’ble Supreme Court where the appointment of Bhawani Singh was challenged in a writ petition, but it was categorically rejected and the Hon’ble Apex Court ordered to retain Bhawani Singh as the SPP in Jayalalithaa’s DA case.

The Disproportionate Assets case wandered aimlessly for 18 years in the temples of Justice both in Chennai and in Bangalore, which saw elevation/retirement of 4 full time Judges, when finally Justice D’Cunha, within a year of taking charge of the case, sternly pronounced his final verdict in this landmark case in September 2014 wherein he observed, “Heady mix of power and wealth is the bottom line of this case. Huge accumulation of wealth in a short span of five years (1991-96) is a telling example of how power would lead to a concentration of unlawful wealth posing veritable danger to democratic structure”.

In his 1136 pages long verdict, Justice D’Cunha sentenced Jayalalithaa to 4 years of simple imprisonment along with a fine of Rs. 100 crores under Section 13(1)(e) and 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, and a similar term of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10 crores each for the other accused persons who were charged under Section 120-B and 109 of the Indian Penal Code.

Appeal to Karnataka High Court

Mr. Fali S Nariman, got the bail for Jayalalithaa by presenting brilliant arguments before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Jayalalithaa was granted bail by the Hon’ble Apex Court which also ordered the appeal to be decided within a span of 4 months.

The Prosecution placed the similar facts before the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court as it had placed before the Trial Court. The bench of the Hon’ble High Court was presided over by Justice Kumaraswamy. The Hon’ble Judge took into consideration all the relevant aspects of the case including all the evidences and taxation reports of various departments, and to everybody’s surprise, Jayalalithaa along with all others, was acquitted of all the charges.

Justice Kumaraswamy observed that the case of prosecution was based on poor arithmetic calculations of loans and personal income of the accused. He vehemently observed that the method of computation of disproportionate assets was flawed and this led to an incorrect assessment of the assets of the accused.

According to HC’s assessment of Jayalalithaa’s assets, it only amounted to a sum on Rs. 2,82,36,812 which is unaccounted for, which forms disproportionate assets to the extent of 8.12% which is permissible as it was held by the Hon’ble Apex Court in Krishnanand Agnihotri’s Case. A limit of 10% of disproportionate assets was sealed by the Hon’ble Court in this case, for a person to seek relief and claim acquittal on this ground.

Before Parting…

A historical and unprecedented mockery of the judicial system has been witnessed in this highly politicized and dramatized case, catering much to the needs of the mighty. A series of instances, ranging from Salman Khan’s Hit and Run case to Jayalalithaa’s acquittal have illuminated the miserable reality that Principle of Equality i.e. ‘All are equal in the eyes of law’ is nothing but a farce.

‘Might is Right’ is yet again reiterated by our very own temples of Justice, and its priests therein are undoubtedly true fans of the ‘veteran actress’. As Amma puts it, she is a ‘Gold refined by Fire’, it can now be inferred that this metaphor of ‘fire’ was always a marionette in her own hands.

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