| Jayalalithaa with governor Surjeet Singh Barnala and Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (left) and his wife Nasreena at Chennai airport on Wednesday. (PTI)
March 30: In what could give the Jayalalithaa regime a red face, the Supreme Court today asked Tamil Nadu Speaker K. Kalimuthu to honour a Madras High Court order to appear before a Chennai trial court in a 22-year-old bank loan scam.
The case, filed by the CBI, relates to orders allegedly given by Kalimuthu to nationalised banks in 1983 to advance vehicle loans totalling Rs 56 lakh to Robin Mayne, the main accused in the scam. The funds, belonging to the Tamil Nadu State Agricultural Marketing Board, were allegedly deposited in the banks by Kalimuthu, who was then state agriculture minister.
Disposing of the Speaker's petition against the high court order, the bench said it did 'not find any infirmity in the judgment'. It asked the trial court to 'dispose of the case as expeditiously as possible' as the chargesheet was filed nearly two decades ago.
When the CBI first filed the case in the trial court, Kalimuthu contended it had not obtained proper government sanction to prosecute him. As such, the court could not take cognisance of the case, he said.
The trial court had upheld his contention. But the high court reversed the order on March 31 last year on a CBI appeal and asked Kalimuthu to appear before the trial court on April 16, 2004.
Subsequently, the Speaker moved a special leave petition in the Supreme Court pleading for an interim stay on the high court order. The apex court then ruled Kalimuthu need not personally appear in the trial court from April 13 last year till date.
But today's order means there is no way Kalimuthu can skip appearing before the trial court. The Supreme Court has also made it clear that the CBI will not have to seek fresh sanction to produce him before the court.
Political sources said the order has put the Speaker, already under fire in the Assembly for his allegedly 'partisan attitude', in a spot. Not only will he have to face the embarrassment of presiding over the Assembly and standing trial at the same time, it will embolden the Opposition to step up its campaign against him.
The Opposition has been on a warpath since rural industry minister B. Valarmathi made some allegedly derogatory remarks against DMK chief M. Karunanidhi last week.
Since then, the DMK and its allies, including the Congress, PMK, CPM and the CPI, have been boycotting the Assembly to protest 'the continuing violations of the rules and conventions of the House by the ruling ADMK led by Jayalalithaa'.
They had also contemplated bringing a no-trust motion against Kalimuthu 'for tacitly cooperating with the treasury benches' but backed off for lack of numbers.
On Monday, when Opposition MLAs kicked up a ruckus in the House demanding that the allegedly derogatory remarks be expunged, Kalimuthu had them evicted on grounds of 'obstructing proceedings'. This led to a huge protest against his 'high-handedness'.
Today's court order is, therefore, likely to have the Opposition MLAs rubbing their hands in glee. Till this evening, there was no word from the Speaker's office. Kalimuthu was unavailable for comment.