If it was Salman Khan who made news last week, it was clearly Jayalalithaa who hogged the limelight this week. The former Tamil Nadu chief minister’s acquittal on Monday morning by the Karnataka High Court clearly showed how the judicial system in India works, especially when dealing with the rich and the powerful.
The clean chit given by Justice CR Kumaraswamy of the Karnataka High Court led to a wave of celebrations, which began from the court complex in Bengaluru and extended all the way to Poes Garden, Jayalalithaa’s residence, in Chennai. The judgement is bound to alter the political equations in Tamil Nadu.
Delivering his verdict, Justice Kumaraswamy relied on the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Krishnanand Agnihotri vs State of Madhya Pradesh for acquitting Jayalalithaa and three others — Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala Natarajan and the latter’s relatives J Elavarasi and VN Sudhakaran, the disowned foster son of Jayalalithaa — from all charges against them.
Justice Kumaraswamy observed, “The prosecution has mixed up assets of accused, firms and companies and also kept the cost of construction at 27,79,88,945, marriage expenses at 6,45,04,222 and valuation of the assets at 66,44,73,573.”
He further said, “If we remove the exaggerated value of cost of construction and marriage expenses, the assets will work out to be at 37,59,02,466. The total income of the accused, firms and companies is 34,76,65,654. Lack of proportion amount is 2,82,36,812. The percentage of disproportionate assets is 8.12 percent, which is relatively small.”
Thankfully for Jayalalithaa and the three others, the figure added to less than 10 percent and this worked to their advantage. The judge did not take cognizance of the detailed valuations of the 1995 wedding of her foster son Sudhakaran, giving Jayalalithaa the much-needed relief. While the trial court had assessed the expenses incurred by Jayalalithaa on the wedding as 3 crore, the high court took into account only 28.68 lakh as the amount spent by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (aiadmk) supremo.
THE ARITHMETIC ERROR
The Karnataka High Court verdict in the disproportionate assets case was based on an arithmetic calculation that the percentage of disproportionate assets of Jayalalithaa were within permissible limits of 8.12 percent — something that makes many wonder if level of corruption can be quantified in such a manner.
However, the calculation might cause further embarrassment to Justice Kumaraswamy and also endanger Jayalalithaa’s political future. On page 852 of the judgment, Justice Kumaraswamy said that the prosecution did not factor in the income of the accused which came via bank loans, totalling 24,17,31,274. But the public prosecutor BV Acharya maintains that the actual figure comes to 10,67,31,274. The calculation error proved advantageous for Jayalalithaa as the difference between her income and assets jumped to nearly 14 crore. This could mean that the 8 percent margin may actually turn out to be nearly 70 percent.
All eyes are now on Justice Kumaraswamy’s next move.
Those who lived in Chennai at the time will remember the grandeur of the wedding celebrations for which over 50,000 invitations were sent out. The likes of AR Rahman and the late Mandolin player U Srinivas had performed on the occasion, apparently free of cost, going by their statements given to the trial court.
Justice Kumaraswamy’s verdict gave Jayalalithaa relief also due to the fact that the cost of several sarees and pairs of shoes, which brought the media glare into the case, were not taken into account by the Karnataka High Court, unlike the trial court. The judge said, “A-1 (Jayalalithaa) was a cine actress from 18 years of age. Most of the apparels which were used for the purpose of film shooting were handed over to her by the film producers. In that view of the matter, I decline to take the value of the apparels (sic).”
Jayalalithaa also benefited from the work done by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (dvac), which had scaled up the valuations of some of Jayalalithaa’s assets or had not properly documented them. The dvac’s assessment of construction on Jayalalithaa’s properties was scaled down from over 27 crore to the court’s finding of 5.10 crore. The Karnataka High Court also observed several lapses on the part of the trial court in attaching the assets of the accused in the case.