November 1, 2020

Case Brief: State of Karnataka vs. Selvi. J. Jayalalitha (Criminal Appeal No. 304-307 of 2017)

§ Name of the Court: Hon’ble Supreme Court of India

§ Hon’ble Bench: Pinaki Chandra Ghose, J.

§ Parties: 1) Plaintiffs: State of Karnataka & A. Anbazhagan 2) Defendants: Late Selvi J. Jayalalitha & Indo Doha Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

§ Total no. of Pages: 570

Introduction:

Corruption is an evil which is eating India like a mite. If we look into the history, a number of invaders came to India and plundered all the wealth in duration of their rule. India is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of spices, tea export, handicraft and talented people in various fields like arts and science. It is disheartening to see the condition today because of the various scams and illegal methods of money making being on news almost every day. Today corruption can be seen in any field, may it be bureaucrats or among businessmen. It is a strong concern from the society point of view as the money they are misappropriating is hard earned money of a common man. Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 was established in order to regulate social-economic offences in India but it also proving weaker day by day.

There is one such incident is of asset misappropriation case and the accused in the case was a politician late J. Jayalalitha who had been Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu five times. She was a member of Tamil Nadu’s regional political party called All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). She was one of the most loved personalities in the state because of her philanthropic works and large scale welfare policies. Her tenure was going fine when a sudden petition was filed in suspicion of her possessing illegal lands, buildings, gold and machineries. Along with her there were three more accused namely Sasikala Natarajan, Ilavarasi and VN Sudhakaran who are also member of AIADMK. This article is brief about the cases which lead to the downfall of Jayalalitha regime along with the key events which occurred incidentally.

Facts:

The case initiated in 1996 in lower court of Chennai. The accused including Jayalalitha and few of her colleagues were summoned to the court. It was found that the case revolved around corruption by state officials and misappropriated amount was found to be Rs. 66.65 Crore approximately which was grossly disproportionate with the sources of the accused’s income[1]. In the trial court’s decision, they were held to be convicted under Section 13(1)(c) & (d) and 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Sections 120B and 409 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 for three years of imprisonment. Later, it became a big controversy when Jayalalitha was nominated for the elections of chief minister in 2001. The nomination was immediately challenged in the court as after her conviction from the trial court, even though the appeal of her sentence was still pending, she should be disqualified from contesting in elections[2]. The court also held the nomination invalid under Representation of People’s Act, 1951.

Now, because the ruling government party in Tamil Nadu that time was AIADMK, in order to avoid favoritism and biasness in the case, the appeal was shifted from Chennai High Court to Karnataka High Court. The Karnataka High Court referred Krishnanand Agnihotri v. State of Madhya Pradesh[3] case to calculate the percentage disproportionate property. According to the calculations the percentage came up to 8.12% (Refer Figure 1) and as per the case if the percentage is less than 10%, then accused can be acquitted. On 27th September 2014, Karnataka High Court over ruled the judgment passed by trial court and acquitted Jayalalitha and other from all the charges. A lot of people presume that this judgment had a lot of political influence. The only remedy to question the judgment was to either go for revision or appeal. So, accordingly an appeal was being filed in the apex court of India. This case is landmark in the sense, it gave jitters to those politicians who misappropriate money in the name of welfare of people.

Issues:

§ Whether the defendants are liable for criminal conspiracy, corruption, violation of Sec.109 of IPC and other money laundering charges?

§ Whether appointment of Jayalalitha as Chief Minister is constitutional or not?

§ Whether the judgments pronounced by the trial court was politically influenced or not?

Arguments by the Parties:

§ The main contention of plaintiffs was that even though J. Jayalaitha was a public servant, she refrained from disclosing her disproportionate properties and income tax which opens a window of doubt about her intentions. Moreover, she involved herself in criminal conspiracy with other accused for corruption. They contended that such behavior is abuse of power and defaming the name of government and pleaded that the trial conducted by the trial court was not erroneous and should be upheld by the hon’ble Apex Court.

§ The defendants contended that, the evaluation of assets, liabilities and other accounts of all the accused were not correctly assessed. The counsel submitted bank transaction details which showed payment of income tax by his clients. Addressing the point of criminal conspiracy, the counsel said that there were official state meetings which cannot be termed as an offence.

Judgment:

Meanwhile, health condition of J. Jayalalitha started falling because of which she was admitted in hospital twice. She breathed last on 5th December 2016.

Supreme Court pronounced final judgment of this case on 14th February 2017 and reversed the decision of Karnataka High Court. Calculation of the disproportionate property was done again and found that calculation done by Karnataka High Court was patently erroneous and unsustainable. Hence, Supreme Court held all accused guilty for possessing disproportionate assets, provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and violation of Sec. 120B, 409 and 109 of IPC. All three convicts are currently undergoing their punishment.

Present Status of the judgment:

As far as implementation of the case is concerned, it is still ruling. There have been no further appeals or petitions in this case and has not been over-ruled by any other case.

Conclusion:

Though this case is not the only case involving social and political issues but it definitely did attract lot of attention from those people who were ardent worshippers of Jayalalitha as a person. However, during her tenure she initiated number of policies in field of education, health & hygiene and nutrition for the people, which were commendable. There have been many cases in India involving corruption because of which people have lost faith in government, which is very unfortunate.

According to The Corruption Perception Index, released by World Economic Forum 2020, out of 180 countries, India is on 80th position at level of transparency in public sectors.[4]

The Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013 was passed whose aim was to regulate and prevent corruption by bringing government officials under the purview of it. The need of the hour is to get stricter with laws today which can keep a clear check of sources of income of bureaucrats and businessmen who come to power with intention to get wrongful gains. We need a responsible set of people who will be determined towards their work, address their problems and most importantly discourage corruption. Hopefully we’ll one day be able to curb all these shortcomings and emerge as corruption free country.

[1] State of Karnataka v. Selvi J, Jayalalitha & Ors, (Criminal Appeal Nos.304-307 of 2017).

[2] B.R. Kapur v. State of Tamil Nadu & Anr., (2001) 7 SCC 231.

[3] AIR 1977 SC 769.

[4]India ranked 80th in Corruption Perception Index, The Economics Tomes, Jan. 23, 2020, 10:14PM IST, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-ranked-80th-in-corruption-perception-index/articleshow/73560064.cms?from=mdr.

Author Details: Surabhi Mathur (Advocate)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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