| Jayendra Saraswati
Chennai, Dec. 8: Madras High Court today stopped short of virtually indicting the Kanchi acharya, Jayendra Saraswati, while rejecting his second bail application in 18 days.
'The materials relied upon by the prosecution would, prima facie, constitute reasonable grounds to believe that the petitioner (the acharya) is shown to be guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life,' Justice R. Balasubramanian said. This is the high court's most serious observation yet in the Shankar Raman murder case.
The seer was arrested early last month in connection with the murder of Raman, the manager of Sri Varadaraja Perumal temple in Kancheepuram.
The judge, however, said that he 'was not expressing any opinion on the merits or the demerits of the prosecution case based on the materials referred to above and allow the same to be decided on evidence by the trial court'.
Stating that the Tamil Nadu government's case against the acharya was that the deceased was a 'thorn in the thigh of the petitioner' as evident from letters found by police, Justice Balasubramanian said the 'petitioner was bent upon eliminating his tormentor at any cost'.
'Therefore, the petitioner has a strong motive to commit the crime,' the judge said in the 27-page order.
'Conspiracy can be established by direct evidence or by drawing legal inferences from established circumstances. I leave all these issues open' Justice Balasubramanian said in dismissing the bail plea.
Referring to the 'unimpeachable legal evidence' placed by prosecution counsel K.T.S. Tulsi, the judge listed statements of two witnesses ' recorded under CrPC Section 164 ' that disclose that the assailants were seen in the petitioner's company at the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt.
Justice Balasubramanian also listed the recovery of 39 letters Raman wrote to the petitioner and 'large volumes of money withdrawn for the purpose of disbursing it to the hirelings'.
The high court had rejected the seer's first bail plea on November 20. The second plea was heard for over a week, with the case being reheard at one stage.
While arguing the second bail application, defence counsel I. Subramaniam had relied substantially on a case involving Pappu Yadav.
The controversial politician was granted bail by Patna High Court for a similar charge even after the Supreme Court rejected the bail plea and returned the matter to the high court.
Subramaniam argued that the apex court's decision ' that 'the power available to the court of sessions or to the high court' under CrPC Section 439 was curtailed by the mandate prescribed under CrPC Section 437 (1)(i) ' could not be considered 'universal in its application'.
Section 437 (1)(i) says that no person shall be granted bail 'if there appear reasonable grounds for believing that he has been guilty of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life'.
Madras High Court, Subramaniam said, thus had a certain discretionary power to grant bail.
Tulsi, a senior Supreme Court advocate, however, cited other apex court and high court cases to argue that the Pappu Yadav judgment 'is a binding precedent and that this court has to necessarily follow the same'.
Justice Balasubramanian agreed that 'those judgments are binding precedents on the powers available to the high court or the sessions (to consider bail) under Section 439 of the CrPC'.
Hence, he said, the acharya 'would be legally disabled from coming out on bail'.
In another case against the seer relating to assault on former mutt official Radhakrishnan in Chennai over two years ago, the principal sessions judge here reserved orders on the bail plea for December 10.