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Jaya gesture of little legal value

New Delhi, Jan. 2: If Jayalalithaa has surrendered the controversial Tansi land to the government, it need not make any fundamental difference to the outcome of the case, legal experts have said.

The Tamil Nadu chief minister and her friend, Sassikala, are believed to have returned the two controversial plots of land purchased from the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Development Corporation (Tansi) during her previous tenure. But the government has not yet confirmed the surrender.

Jayalalithaa was accused of causing a revenue loss to the state exchequer from under-evaluation of the properties. Jayalalithaa was convicted in the case by a special trial court and was banned from contesting the 2001 Assembly elections. However, after Madras High Court quashed the charges, she contested the Andipatti byelection and became chief minister.

On appeal against her acquittal, a division bench of the Supreme Court has reserved judgment.

Jayalalithaa had given an undertaking to the court that she would give back the land to the state without claiming the money she had paid for it.

Justice V.M. Tarkunde, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, said: “The act of surrender of the land will certainly not absolve her of any criminal or even civil liability.”

Tarkunde said that if the court had come to a firm conclusion or if it was proved beyond doubt that she had misused her official position as chief minister to purchase the land, “none can absolve her of the criminal liability”. However, according to Tarkunde, the surrender of the land might have a “mitigating” value. “The court might take a lenient or sympathetic view in the light of the surrender of the land,” he added.

But it would not “absolve her criminal liability”, another leading lawyer said. He pointed out that the Supreme Court would now only either pronounce a verdict holding that there was no offence “as held by the Madras High Court” or say that she had committed an offence.

The lawyer preferred to remain anonymous, saying he had represented a few cases for and on behalf of Jayalalithaa.

According to this lawyer, even if the court took a “lenient view”, it has to come to a conclusion whether an offence was committed or not. This would determine the nature of punishment, too. If the punishment is two or more years of imprisonment, Jayalalithaa would again be disqualified from contesting elections.

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