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Strong case made out for bail: Supreme Court

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, JAN. 10. The Supreme Court today granted bail to the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, 60 days after the Tamil Nadu police arrested him in the Sankararaman murder case on November 11, 2004.

A three-Judge Bench, comprising the Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Justice G.P. Mathur and Justice P.P. Naolekar, said: "We are of the opinion that prima facie a strong case has been made out for grant of bail to the petitioner. The appeal [by the Sankaracharya] is allowed and the impugned order of the High Court is set aside."

Concurring with "a very fair statement" by F.S. Nariman, senior counsel for the petitioner, the Bench imposed the condition that the Acharya should not visit the Kanchi Mutt till the investigation was completed and the chargesheet was filed in the case.

It ordered that "the petitioner shall be released on bail on his furnishing a personal bond and two sureties to the satisfaction of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Chengalput, and that he should surrender his passport before the CJM."

Writing the judgment for the Bench, Mr. Justice Mathur did not accept the prosecution claim that the 39 letters said to have been written by the deceased Sankararaman formed the motive for the Sankaracharya to kill him. "There is absolutely no evidence or material collected so far in the investigation which may indicate that the petitioner had ever shown any resentment against the deceased for having made allegations against either his personal character or the discharge of his duties as Sankaracharya of the Mutt. The petitioner having kept absolutely quiet for over three years, it does not appeal to reason that he suddenly decided to have Sankararaman murdered and entered into a conspiracy for the said purpose."

On the aspect of the Sankaracharya's participation in the conspiracy, the Bench said: "No worthwhile prima facie evidence apart from the alleged confessions have been brought to our notice to show that the petitioner along with other accused was party to a conspiracy."

Not Mutt employees

On the statements of independent witnesses about the Sankaracharya's alleged participation in the conspiracy, the Bench said "these persons are not employees of the Mutt and are strangers. It looks highly improbable that the petitioner would talk about the commission of murder at such a time and place where his talks could be heard by total strangers."

Referring to the alleged dying declaration of Sankararaman, the Bench said the witness in his 164 Cr.P.C. statement before a Magistrate had merely stated that Sankararaman spoke to him on September 3, 2004. "Since the telephonic conversation which Sankararaman had with this witness did not relate to the cause of his death or as to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in his death, the same does not come within the purview of Section 32 (1) of the Evidence Act and is not admissible in evidence," the Bench held.

On the judgment of the apex court in the Pappu Yadav case relied on by the Madras High Court to reject bail to the petitioner, the Bench said "the observations made therein cannot have general application so as to apply in every case including the present one wherein the court is hearing the matter for the first time."

On the allegation that the Sankaracharya had kept Rs. 50 lakhs, received from the sale of Jan Kalyan property, in his room from April 30, 2004 and that this amount was utilised to pay the assailants, the Bench noted that the statement of accounts from the bank clearly showed the amount was deposited in the bank on May 7, 2004.

The court allowed the Sankaracharya's appeal against the High Court judgment dated December 8, 2004.

Our Vellore Staff Reporter writes:

A large number of devotees and mediapersons converged in front of the Central Prison here on hearing the news that Sri Jayendra Saraswathi had been granted bail.

But the Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court in Chengalpattu was yet to act on the judgment and forward the release order to the Vellore jail.

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