Shankaracharyas case transferred to Pondicherry
Supreme Court indicts Jayalalithaa
By Vaidehi Nathan
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has received the most appropriate judicial slap from the highest court of the land for the manner in which she was seeking to convict the most revered Acharyas of the Kanchi Mutt, through a trial by the pliable media in the State. In a most significant verdict, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the Shankar-raman murder case to Pondicherry as it was convinced that the Tamil Nadu government'sactions had created ?reasonable apprehension? in the minds of the petitioners.
A bench comprising Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justice G.P. Mathur said: ?From the material placed before us, we are prima facie satisfied that a situation has arisen in the present case wherein the lawyers engaged by the petitioner and other co-accused cannot perform their professional duty in a proper and dignified manner on account of various hurdles created by the State machinery. The lawyers would be more concerned with shielding their own reputation or their liberty rather than cross-examining the prosecution witnesses for eliciting the truth.?
This is the second time that the State government has been snubbed by the Supreme Court in this case. His Holiness Swami Jayendra Saraswati was arrested on November 10, 2004, on Deepavali in the case relating to the murder of former manager of the Kanchi Mutt Shankarraman. Subsequently, the junior seer His Holiness Swami Vijayendra Saraswati was also arrested as a co-accused. Later, the SC in its order on the bail petition of the respected senior Acharya had observed that there appeared no evidence to link the seers with the murder. The Chennai High Court also, while granting bail to the junior Acharya, had observed that the evidence against him was ?inadequate and slim?.
?A situation has arisen in the present case wherein the lawyers engaged by the petitioner and other co-accused cannot perform their professional duty in a proper and dignified manner on account of various hurdles created by the State machinery.?
The lawyers for the Acharyas had appealed to the Supreme Court to transfer the case to Andhra Pradesh as they did not expect to get a fair chance to present their case. The State machinery had launched a vilification campaign against the Acharyas, the mutt and anyone associated with the mutt or even those who spoke up against the State government'shandling of the case. On the other hand, Jayalalithaa used her office to overtly and covertly encourage those who were willing to speak against the Acharyas and the mutt for a few silver pieces.
The Supreme Court order on October 26, 2005, has thoroughly exposed that the Tamil Nadu government was using the official machinery to threaten and coarse witness, muffle voices of protest and suppress and deviate the judicial proceedings. If the Chief Minister, who took such a moral high ground on the case has any morality at all, she should apologise to His Holinesses the Shankaracharyas of the Kanchi Mutt and the Hindus for treating them the way she did. She also owes it to the people of Tamil Nadu and the devotees of the Mutt to regret her highhandedness.
Reading the order Justice G.P. Mathur said: ?It is the actions of the prosecuting agency and the State machinery which are responsible for creating a reasonable apprehension in the mind of the petitioner and other co-accused that they will not get justice if the trial is held in any place inside Tamil Nadu. We are, therefore, of the opinion that the interest of justice requires that the trial may be transferred to a place outside the State of Tamil Nadu.? ?Launching of prosecution against prominent persons, who have held high political offices, and prominent journalists merely because they expressed some dissent against the arrest of the petitioner shows the attitude of the State that it cannot tolerate any kind of dissent, which is the most cherished right in a democracy, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitution,? the Bench said.
The Supreme Court accepted the plea of the lawyers for the petitioners that they were facing difficulties in conducting their professional duty, and said: ?The constant fear of not causing any annoyance to the prosecution witnesses, specially those of the police department, would loom large over their mind, vitally affecting the defence of the accused. Passing of the detention order against 16 co-accused, soon after grant of bail in the present case, is a pointer to the fact that the State wanted to deprive them of any chance to secure release from custody.?
?Launching of prosecution against prominent persons, who have held high political offices, and prominent journalists merely because they expressed some dissent against the arrest of the petitioner shows the attitude of the State that it cannot tolerate any kind of dissent, which is the most cherished right in a democracy, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Constitutions,? the bench said.
The bench noted that this action ?only on the ground that the petitioner, who is the head of the Mutt, has been charge-sheeted for entering into a conspiracy to murder Shankarraman, leads to an inference that the State machinery is not only interested in securing conviction of the petitioner and other co-accused but also to bring to a complete halt the entire religious and other activities of various trusts and endowments and the performance of pooja and other rituals in the temples and religious places in accordance with the custom and traditions, and thereby create a fear psychosis in the minds of the people. This may deter any one to appear in court to give evidence in defence of the accused.?
The Judges said: ?We have discussed many facets of the case which do show that the State machinery in Tamil Nadu is not only taking an undue interest but is going to any extent in securing the conviction of the accused by any means and to stifle even publication of any article or expression of dissent in media or press, interview in media or press, interview by journalists or persons who have held high positions in public life and are wholly un-connected with the criminal case.?
?The Superintendent of Police, SIT and police inspector connected with the investigation even went to the extent of prompting approver Ravi Subramanian to make insinuation against a very senior counsel who has been practising for over 43 years and is appearing as counsel for the petitioner,? the court said. The court also said the freezing of the Mutt accounts showed the extent to which the State machinery could go while prosecuting the seer in the murder case.
The case was transferred to Pondicherry and not Andhra as the State government had contended that shifting to Andhra would involve enormous amount of translation as most of the documents related to case were in Tamil.
The Tamil Nadu government must now keep its hands off the case and allow the proceedings, which will, no doubt, exonerate the Acharyas, a fact Jayalalithaa may not relish. Which is why she was putting her entire administration to work to drum up statements and witnesses to malign the reputation of the Mutt and people associated with it. In her political overdrive for the minority votes, with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections, Jayalalithaa has taken many decisions in the last year or so blatantly in favour of the Muslims and Christians and against the interest of the Hindus.