Nov. 18: The Supreme Court today transferred a batch of disproportionate asset cases against Jayalalithaa to a special trial court in Bangalore to check what it called “subversion in the process of justice”.
The shift comes as a stinging slap in the face of the Tamil Nadu chief minister, who will now not only have to appear in person in court but also stomach the ignominy of standing trial in a Congress-ruled state. She is used to having cross-examination questionnaires sent to her Poes Garden residence.
Only last week, Jayalalithaa had threatened to bring a resolution against Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna, demanding that the Centre dismiss his government for not abiding by the Supreme Court directive in the Cauvery water dispute.
Today’s order also draws the glare on the difficulty of holding “free and fair trial” in corruption cases against the ADMK leader in her home state, casting a cloud on the independence of the Tamil Nadu judiciary.
But the legal slap did not have any outward impact on Jayalalithaa, accused of having amassed Rs 66 crore during her earlier tenure as chief minister. She went about her business as usual in Chennai and wrapped up the day by attending a music and dance programme.
The Supreme Court order was set off by a series of questionable moves by the Jayalalithaa regime, including recall of 76 witnesses whose cross-examination was already over in the Chennai trial court. All 76 went back on their statements, in a parallel with the Best Bakery cases in which all witnesses had turned hostile.
A.R. Rahman, who had sung at the wedding of Jayalalithaa’s foster son, was among the nearly 200 witnesses who had deposed earlier.
“The witnesses who had been examined and cross examined earlier should on a flimsy ground never have been recalled… The fact that it is done after… Jayalalithaa assumed power as the chief minister… and the public prosecutor… did not oppose and/or give consent to application for recall witnesses is indicative of how judicial process is being subverted,” the court said.
The bench of Justices S.. Variava and H.K. Sema then held that the cases being tried in the Chennai special trial court under the Prevention of Corruption Act “stand transferred” to a special court “to have its sitting in Bangalore”.
The judges ordered the Karnataka government to set up the court in six weeks in consultation with the chief justice of Karnataka High Court and appoint a special trial judge in a month. A senior lawyer will have to be appointed public prosecutor in six weeks to conduct the cases.
All materials, documents, witnesses and evidence will be transferred “forthwith” to the special court on its constitution. Karnataka police have been asked to give full protection to all witnesses.
The court gave the public prosecutor “liberty to recall all the witnesses, including those who turned hostile and resiled from their previous statements, for cross and re-examinations”. It said the special judge could proceed “from such stage he deems fit” and conduct trial on a day to day basis.
Today’s order came on a petition by DMK leader K. Anbazhagan, contending that under Jayalalithaa’s regime “free and fair trial” was impossible in the corruption cases against her.
“The petitioner has made out a case that the public confidence in the fairness of trial is being seriously undermined... great prejudice appear to have been caused to the prosecution which could culminate in grave miscarriage of justice,” the judges said.
They wondered how questionnaires could be sent to Jayalalithaa’s home as this procedure “should not be in ordinary cases”. Such exception could be made only in cases when the accused lived in faraway countries like the US, they pointed out.
“The conduct of the public prosecutor in not opposing such a frivolous application has to be deprecated,” they said.