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Earlier this year, the Supreme Court delivered its judgement in the disproportionate assets case against former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and her aides. The case crawled through various courts for more than two decades, causing a significant dent to the public exchequer.
So just how much did the Karnataka government spend on counsel fees to fight the case in the Special Court?
Before revealing that answer, it is pertinent to note how the authorities have acted on the RTI application filed way back in November of last year. The initial response to the query ‘How much did the Karnataka government spend on court fees and counsel fees in the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case from 1996 to 2016’ was a denial under Section 8 of the Act. The reason? The Supreme Court had not yet decided the case.
A subsequent appeal filed after the apex court pronounced its judgment in the case in February this year received multiple responses. First, the law department sent a reply that the application was being transferred to the ‘relevant authority’. Then, another reply came from the Advocate General’s office stating that the application was being considered.
Finally, the Home Department sent a positive response on April 28. However, the information therein would be incomplete, as it only covered the period during which the trial took place in the Special Court. The information on the amounts spent in the High Court and the Supreme Court, is therefore, missing.
The information below pertains to the period between September 9, 2007 to September 27, 2014, the date on which Special Judge (now Justice) John Michael Cunha convicted Jayalalithaa, Sasikala and others.
Who were the lawyers involved?
The state government was represented by Senior Advocate BV Acharya, who was assisted by Sandesh Chouta. The duo argued for Karnataka from 2007 to 2012.
Then, in 2013, Bhavani Singh was appointed Special Public Prosecutor in the case. He was assisted by Murgesh Maradi; they would go on to get a conviction in September 2014.
How much did they earn?
As mentioned above, the state government spent a total of Rs. 1.85 crore on counsel fees during the aforementioned period. Bhavani Singh earned the most with 96 lakh, more than double the 40 lakh Acharya took home.
How much did the lawyers get paid per hearing?
The government paid a different amount for ‘Effective’ and ‘Non-Effective’ hearings that took place. The former, presumably, means an instance wherein the court did not simply adjourn the matter without hearing. Also, quite naturally, the junior advocate was paid lesser than the SPP.
Acharya, being a designated Senior Advocate, got paid Rs. 50,000 per ‘Effective Appearance’ and Rs. 25,000 per ‘Non-Effective Appearance’. Chouta, on the other hand, was paid Rs. 15,000 per effective hearing and Rs. 7,500 per non-effective hearing. Maradi took home the same amount per hearing. Bhavani Singh, however, was paid Rs. 60,000 per effective hearing and Rs. 30,000 per non-effective hearing.
How many hearings took place?
After Singh’s appointment as SPP was cleared, more than 150 hearings took place until the judgment was passed by the trial court. Singh himself appeared in 144 effective hearings and 18 non-effective hearings, while Maradi was part of 136 effective hearings and 29 non-effective hearings.
The period prior to 2013 more than 180 hearings, with Sandesh Chouta appearing in 121 effective hearings and 65 non-effective hearings. However, Acharya appeared only a total of 91 times.