The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Acharya put in fair hands
- From clutches of prison, seer in custody of women cops

Kancheepuram, Nov. 19: After spending a week in prison, Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswati was today sent to a women's police station for interrogation over four days.

The first judicial magistrate, Uthamaraj, granted the prosecution's plea for police custody of the acharya who is an accused in the murder of Shankar Raman, a temple manager.

Standing in the packed courtroom, Jayendra Saraswati looked tired as the ruling was handed down. A pale shadow of his usual self, the seer was whisked away to the police station within the high-security district police office complex in Kancheepuram. He will be in police custody till 10.30 am on Monday.

The police station is one of 700 in the state that handle only women's cases and are manned by an all-woman staff.

The acharya, who was brought from Vellore prison early this morning, had yesterday alleged that he was being framed and appealed to the magistrate not to 'give me over to the police'.

But the magistrate decided there was 'sufficient ground for granting police custody'. It was 'just and necessary for further investigations', he added.

However, the magistrate added two riders ' a lawyer nominated by the acharya should be allowed to visit the place of investigation daily between 6 and 7 pm and government doctors should examine the seer twice every day as he is suffering from high blood pressure.

Defence counsel Y. Thyagarajan had earlier insisted on certain safeguards if police custody was granted.

Quoting extensively from the Nandini Satpathy case (Supreme Court 1978) regarding custodial interrogation, the lawyer said if there was any move or pressure (either psychological or in the immediate environment) suggestive of 'loaded questioning', it 'becomes compelled testimony' and violative of Article 20(3) of the Constitution.

Such questioning becomes 'intimidatory and so I want safeguards,' Thyagarajan said. The accused 'cannot be forced to answer questions', he added. The defence counsel also wanted the acharya's lawyer to be allowed to be present during questioning.

The court was informed that Jayendra Saraswati has nominated a lawyer from the Thanjavur bar, V. Krishnamurthy, to visit him in custody every day.

Response from the people of this temple town was muted as the acharya was driven away in a van to the all-woman police station. 'It is possible that police may take him to another undisclosed destination later tonight,' a resident remarked.

If he is moved, Jayendra Saraswati's lawyer will have to be informed. If the lawyer cannot be reached, the court should be informed, the magistrate said.

In the afternoon, a defence lawyer made an oral mention in Madras High Court for a stay of the Kancheepuram magistrate's order. But the court asked for a detailed petition, with a copy marked to the prosecution.

The Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt expressed its dismay over today's developments and said this was delaying the bail process. 'We are sad such a thing has happened,' said spokesperson R. Shankaran. The junior acharya, Vijayendra Saraswati, is 'deeply anguished' and does not wish to speak directly to the media, he added. All pujas are being performed as usual at the mutt.

The mutt was considering filing a revision petition against the magistrate's order in Madras High Court to enable Jayendra Saraswati's chosen lawyer to be with him throughout the interrogation.

To a question, Shankaran said if Madras High Court refuses bail, the mutt's lawyers would make a mention in court to permit the junior acharya to meet Jayendra Saraswati in prison.

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