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‘Saviour’ of Karunanidhi

Santiago Ashok Kumar

Chennai, July 21: A few days after M. Karunanidhi was arrested in a midnight swoop on June 30, 2001, the former chief minister’s bail application had come up before sessions judge Santiago Ashok Kumar.

“Is your heart made of muscle or mud? What was the pressure on you to arrest a 78-year-old man suffering from various ailments?” Kumar asked Tamil Nadu police who were then reporting to a government headed by Jayalalithaa.

Karunanidhi was granted bail and a flyover scam case, in which he was arrested, was buried in 2006 when the DMK returned to power.

Kumar was elevated as additional judge of Madras High Court in April 2003 when the DMK was part of the NDA. When the UPA was in power, Kumar was confirmed as a full-fledged judge before he was transferred to Andhra Pradesh High Court in March 2008. He retired in July 2009 and died in October the same year.

Karunanidhi himself had acknowledged that but for the session judge’s decision, he would not have come out alive from jail.

In his younger days as a lawyer, Kumar had contested Assembly elections on a Janata Party ticket twice — in 1977 and 1980. He lost both times.

The alleged adverse references against Kumar in an Intelligence Bureau report apparently dealt with 2002 and 2003 when Kumar was a district judge in Krishnagiri, located in Tamil Nadu but not very far from Karnataka, and he used to spend weekends in Bangalore.

The adverse remarks were struck off by the then acting chief justice N. Dinakar, who had acquitted Jayalalithaa in a land case. The acquittal had enabled her to return as chief minister in 2002 after being unseated by the Supreme Court. Dinakar was recently appointed as chairman of the Tamil Nadu Law Commission by the present Jayalalithaa government.

While releasing Karunanidhi, his son Stalin and others on bail on July 6, 2001, Kumar had said: “The way the complaint was lodged and FIR registered without examining witnesses shows that the only motive was to arrest some people.”

The judge had pointed out that the investigating officer had stated that none of the accused received pecuniary advantage in the preparation of estimates or construction of flyovers.

Today, H.R. Bharadwaj, a law minister when the UPA was in power, said 18 MPs, including a minister of state, said “injustice is being done to this person who was from the Scheduled Caste and ‘our people are very angry with it’. I said ‘I cannot decide it, it will be decided by the Chief Justice of India’.

PTI quoted Bharadwaj as saying the MPs wanted the additional judge to be elevated as a permanent judge. “Their views were sent to the CJI and he decided not to confirm him (as permanent judge) straightaway. He said he will hold a discreet inquiry and after that, it will be decided,” Bharadwaj said.