The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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High court extends seer's jail stay

Chennai, Nov. 20: Madras High Court rejected the Kanchi seer's bail application this evening, condemning Jayendra Saraswati to a longer stint in Vellore prison.

After 'applying' his mind to the material before the court, Justice R. Balasubramanian said in his 16-page order: 'I am of the opinion that the petitioner has not made out any case for releasing him on bail at this stage.'

The judge outlined the order's operational portions before a packed courtroom. The seer's counsel, senior advocate I. Subramaniam, and counsel for Tamil Nadu, senior Supreme Court lawyer T.K.S. Tulsi were present.

Saying the investigation is at a 'threshold stage' and the 'offence' is 'of a serious nature', the judge upheld Tulsi's arguments during a marathon two-day session for denying Saraswati bail. The seer is one of the accused in the September 3 murder of Shankar Raman, manager of the Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple.

Justice Balasubramanian said the state counsel had made the point that much remained to be done in the murder probe. He also rejected one of the key arguments by Ram Jethmalani, one of the seer's counsel, that Saraswati had not been told why he was being arrested when he was taken into custody at Mehboobnagar near Hyderabad on the night of November 11.

The judge said the compact disc of the run-up to the arrest that was played in court clearly showed that 'the grounds of arrest had been told to the petitioner (Saraswati) by the arresting officer'. 'During the short span of 10 minutes itself, I could see and hear that,' Balasubramanian said.

'The conversation between the petitioner and the arresting officer videographed in the compact disc shows that when the petitioner wanted to have his lawyer, the arresting officer had told him (the seer) that he can have his lawyer,' the judge added.

A glance at the remand records the next day when Saraswati was being remanded in the Kancheepuram magistrate court shows that the seer had been told why he was being arrested and remanded. 'Therefore, I hold that there is no violation of the constitutional mandate or even violation of Section 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,' Balasubramanian said.

The prosecution has relied on three bits of evidence. These include 'completed calls on mobile phones between the petitioner on the one hand and one or other hirelings on the other hand, both prior to the occurrence and after the occurrence'.

The judge said the prosecution also relies on the 'act of the petitioner' withdrawing money from a mutt-related bank account to disburse among the hirelings and the large amount of money 'recovered' from them.

The state has also relied on the recovery of a letter said to have been written by Raman to the seer, 'giving him an ultimatum from one of the arrested accused'.

Jethmalani had argued that this evidence was unavailable but Balasubramanian said: 'On a perusal of the case dairy, I find that there are prima facie materials in the form of statements of various persons implicating the petitioner as the conspirator.'

The judge agreed that the arrest of the seer, a 'saintly person', on the day Diwali is celebrated in southern India could have sparked 'passion in the minds of millions of Indians' who revere Saraswati.

But, 'keeping myself at a safe distance from the impact of religious sentiments and faith which I have, I have decided to appreciate the issue in this (bail) application strictly on the basis of legal materials,' Balasubramanian said.

The Kanchi mutt is likely to move the Supreme Court on Monday against today's order.

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