The petitioner has challenged removal of SPP

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its verdict on petitions filed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and three other accused in the disproportionate assets case challenging the removal of the Special Public Prosecutor Bhavani Singh for conducting the trial in a Bangalore court.

A Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde reserved verdict on the petitions which also sought a direction to extend the services of the present judge who is due to retire on September 30.

The Bench heard arguments from senior counsel Vikas Singh and counsel R. Shanmugasundaram, appearing for the DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan and senior counsel Shekar Naphade and Uday Lalit for the petitioners, before reserving the verdict.

Mr. Vikas Singh traced the history of the case from 1996 and said it was transferred by the Supreme Court in 2003 from a court in Chennai to a court in Bangalore at the instance of Mr. Anbazhagan when it found that a fair trial was not possible at Chennai. The petitioner was forced to intervene again in 2013 as the circumstances that prevailed in 2003 resurfaced in the Bangalore court after Mr. Bhavani Singh took over.

He pointed out that the accused persons gave a list of 133 defence witnesses and the SPP examined only 99 defence witnesses by cutting short the list suddenly. Further the investigating officer was examined as a defence witness, which was unheard of and the SPP refused to cross examine him. He said these instances would clearly reveal that a fair and proper trial was not being conducted before the 36th Additional City Civil cum Sessions Judge, who remained as a mute spectator to these proceedings.

Mr. Singh said the judge permitted the defence to begin their arguments without the SPP putting forth his arguments which would amount to upturning the criminal justice system.

The burden of proving the guilt of the accused vested with the prosecution and the defence would reply to prove their innocence.

While so without the prosecution advancing its arguments how could the defence begin their arguments first, counsel asked.

On the question of removal of Mr. Bhavani Singh, counsel said the post of SPP was not a tenure post and the State government was within its right to remove him by following the due procedure, viz in consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court. On extension of tenure of the present judge, counsel said it was not contemplated under the relevant rules and the judge would have to retire on attaining the age of superannuation.

The trial would not suffer on account of the new incumbent as he would continue from the stage where the present judge had left the proceedings, counsel said and prayed for dismissal of the petitions.

Mr. Naphade, however, reiterated his contention that if a new judge was to take up the case and the new SPP was to argue the matter it would prejudice the trial as there were 34,000 pages of evidence. Mr. Naphade said the apex court under Article 142 of the Constitution could extend the tenure of the present judge as the rules provided for such reappointment and it would not be in conflict with law.