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Seated in court, seer sheds signature misgivings

Chennai, Nov. 18: Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswati today pleaded innocence and requested the judge to set him 'free', but hesitated in putting his name to a record of his statements.

The Kanchi seer cited 'mutt tradition' while refusing to sign a copy of his replies typed out by the court staff, before first class judicial magistrate Uthamaraj's court reserved order on a prosecution plea for five days' police custody of the acharya.

When the prosecution objected, the magistrate told the seer he could 'go through what has been recorded'. At the prodding, he affixed his thumb impression.

Madras High Court, too, reserved orders on the seer's bail petition today after defence counsel Ram Jethmalani and prosecutor T.K.S. Tulsi completed their marathon arguments over two days.

Earlier in the day, the seemingly tired seer, arrested on November 11 in connection with the murder of a temple manager, Shankar Raman, was brought amid tight security from Vellore central prison. The court premises in Kancheepuram had been turned into a fort, with over 500 security personnel and sniffer dogs keeping it out of bounds for the public.

After the seer arrived around 12.45 pm, he was allowed to sit on a stool for the entire duration of the day's proceedings.

He told the packed court that he was falsely implicated by the police by 'fabricating evidence'. He claimed he had not been told that he was being arrested, but that he was being taken to the Sankara mutt for investigation.

Yesterday, chief minister Jayalalithaa told the Assembly that investigations showed the seer had 'conspired' in the killing of Raman, the manager of the Varadaraja Perumal temple. Today, without referring to the case, she reiterated at a marriage function that 'everyone is equal in the eyes of the law' and there was no scope for any fear or favour in implementing the laws.

In court, the seer appealed to the magistrate against handing him over to the police. 'Do not give me over to the police, I have trust in your pen,' the acharya said. 'It will not be honest and justice will not be there as against being in judicial custody,' he added.

When Uthamaraj asked about his health, he said 'I cannot say it is normal'. When told that doctors said he was normal, he complained his blood sugar level was shooting up.

At the start of proceedings, public prosecutor Jayakumar sought police custody to ascertain how money was distributed among the suspects, the 'proxy surrender' of 'killers' and some letters written by Raman. But the defence counsels pointed out that the prosecution had not sought police custody when the seer was first produced and argued that once remanded in judicial custody for 15 days, the magistrate's order could not be reviewed under Section 167 of CrPC.

They also submitted that there was no need for police custody as the police have said they had details of the bank accounts and related evidence.

The prosecution countered that there could not be any 'interpretation of the law' at this stage. The only question was whether the court was satisfied with the material submitted by the prosecution for granting police custody.

The judge adjourned proceedings around 3.30 pm as a crowd of anxious devotees and reporters waited outside for the order. Around 5, he reserved orders till tomorrow, saying he needed more time as the arguments were lengthy. The verdict will come at 10.30 am tomorrow, he said.

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