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The Madras High Court today dismissed the challenge moved against the construction of a memorial to honour former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK head, late J Jayalalithaa at the Marina Beach, Chennai.
In the process, the Court also observed that Jayalalithaa cannot be termed as a convict since the case in Supreme Court against her abated on her death.
The observations came in a Public Interest Litigation petition moved by ML Ravi of the Desiya Makkal Sakthi Katchi on the ground that the Government ought not use public funds for the construction of a memorial for Jayalalithaa, given that she had been convicted in the Disproportionate Assets case by the Supreme Court in 2017.
The petitioner had argued that the construction of a memorial in her memory would set a bad precedent and entail the wastage of tax payers’ money. Further, it was also contended that the memorial was being constructed without due sanction and in violation of Coastal Zone Regulation norms.
However, appearing for the State, Advocate General Vijay Narayan told the Court that due sanction had been obtained to construct the memorial. Moreover, it was argued that Jayalalithaa could not be viewed as a convicted criminal, as argued by the petitioner, given that the charges against her stood abated on her death.
Jayalalithaa was initially convicted in 2014 by a Special Court in Karnataka in corruption cases. However, on appeal, the Karnataka High Court set aside the trial court verdict and acquitted Jayalalithaa of all charges.
On further appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Karnataka High Court judgment and restored the trial court verdict in 2017. However, before the Supreme Court passed this verdict, Jayalalithaa passed away in December 2016. This meant that the appeal against her acquittal stood abated, in terms of Section 394 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973. In fact, the Supreme Court had also recorded that the appeal against Jayalalithaa stood abated as she had died before the verdict was passed.
Narayan contended that this also meant that there was no stigma of conviction attached to Jayalalithaa. On the other hand, the construction of a memorial for Jayalalithaa was a policy decision taken by the Government to honour the contributions of the six-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
The Bench of Justices M Sathyananarayanan and P Rajamanickam today concurred with the State’s stand that Jayalalithaa could no longer be stigmatised as a convicted person, given the abatement of the criminal charges against her upon her death. It also noted that it appeared from Government submissions that necessary clearances have been obtained to erect the memorial.
Therefore, the Court concluded as follows:
“… the position of law in respect of the appeal against acquittal is that, on the demise of the respondent/accused in the said appeal, the appeal abates and there is no decision on the merits of the appeal filed by the State and thus, the order of acquittal passed by the Trial Court / Lower Appellate Court, have not been set aside.
… It is to be remembered at this juncture that the said person had already had the benefit acquittal operating in her favour and in the light of the judgment in B.K.Kapur v. State of Tamil Nadu and another [(2001) 7 SCC 231], the stigma of conviction against her got erased/wiped out, which have not been set aside by the Hon’ble Apex Court on merits for the reason that before the orders could be pronounced, she died.Therefore, it cannot be said that Selvi J.Jayalalitha is a convicted person and as such, there is stigma of conviction attached to her.
… necessary clearances have been obtained to erect memorial in honour and memory of former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu late J.Jayalalitha, behind Dr.M.G.R. Memorial at Marina Beach, Kamarajar Salai, Chennai, where her mortal remains buried…
It, therefore, dismissed the petition.
Notably the Court also referred to the High Court’s earlier observations while dismissing a challenge to unveiling a portrait of late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. In that case, the First Bench had held,
“It may be morally wrong to glorify the corrupt. However, in the absence of any law which prohibits display of portraits of a person convicted of corruption, this Court cannot interfere with the display of a photograph on that ground, for that might amount to imposition of a punishment not authorized by law. Furthermore, admittedly, the conviction of Selvi Jayalalitha was set aside by the High Court in appeal, and the appeal filed by the State of Karnataka against her acquittal abated by reason of her death.”
Allied views were expressed by the First Bench in another case as well pertaining to memorial of Jayalalithaa. While hearing the matter, then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee had declined to entertain moral arguments against the construction of the memorial, orally observing that,
“We [Judges] are not moral guardians.”
Before parting with the case, the Bench of Justices Sathyanarayan and Rajamanickam also opined in their order today that the Government may consider focusing on spending funds on development of public utilities, which could also serve to honour great leaders. However, given that this is a matter of policy, the Court observed that it will not interfere.
As noted in today’s order,
“It is pertinent to note at this juncture that public money can be spent for construction of hospitals, school, colleges, implementation of developmental projects and provision of basic facilities/amenities to the citizens, in honour and memory of great leaders and it would be an ever lasting memory in the mind of the citizens/people. However, it is for the Government concerned to take a call and this Court cannot issue any positive direction to do so….
…The State Government may endeavour to take a call / formulate a policy decision in future, to go for construction of hospitals, schools, colleges and provision of basic amenities/facilities to benefit the public/citizens, in honour and memory of great leaders. “
Advocate T Sivagnanasambandan appeared for the petitioner in the case. AG Vijay Narayan, for the State of Tamil Nadu, was assisted by Government Pleader V Jayaprakash Narayanan and Government Pleader (In-charge), E Manoharan.
Image taken from here.
Read the Order: