Setback to Jayalalithaa in TANSI case: S.C. stays H.C.proceedings

NEW DELHI, AUG. 30. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms. Jayalalithaa, today suffered a legal setback when the Supreme Court stayed all further proceedings in the Madras High Court in the appeals filed by her challenging her conviction in the ``TANSI land deal'' and ``Pleasant Stay hotel'' cases.

With this intervention, it is unlikely that Ms. Jayalalithaa will be able to become a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly by November 13, when her six-month term as Chief Minister without being a legislator ends.

A Bench, comprising Mr. Justice S.P. Bharucha, Mr. Justice Y.K. Sabharwal and Mr. Justice Ashok Bhan, while staying the on-going proceedings, also issued notice to the CB-CID, Tamil Nadu and Ms. Jayalalithaa, on a petition, which also sought the transfer of the appeals to some other High Court from the Madras High Court.

The Bench said, ``we have heard the Attorney-General. He has referred to us the transfer petition and the application made by the petitioner before the Madras High Court on August 27. We note that the petitioner is an ex-Advocate General of the State of Tamil Nadu and that he is appearing for the prosecution as Special Prosecutor in the appeals, having been appointed by the High Court.''

``We cannot lightly disregard his statement, made on oath before us, that what is stated in that application is correct and that the application was orally rejected and the appeals were directed to be proceeded with immediately. The appeals have been going on for the last three days and we are told that counsel for the second respondent is still addressing the High Court,'' the judges said.

``If what is stated in the transfer petition is correct, and in the circumstances we have no reason, prima facie, to disbelieve it, it is appropriate that notice be issued on the transfer petition and that the continuance of the hearing of the criminal appeals be stayed,'' the Bench added.

The petition filed by Mr. K.V. Venkatapathi, Special Prosecutor for conducting the appeals, said it was impossible to maintain fairness given the manner in which the hearings were being held.

Ms. Jayalalithaa has been sentenced to undergo three years imprisonment in the TANSI case and one-year imprisonment in the hotel case. The High Court in October last had stayed the operation of the sentence but declined to stay the conviction and, as a result Ms. Jayalalithaa could not contest the Assembly elections held in May.

Ms. Jayalalithaa is waiting eagerly for the High Court verdict in these appeals as her acquittal will enable her to contest the elections before the expiry of the six-month period in November and continue as the Chief Minister. With the apex court staying the on-going proceedings, it would not be possible for the High Court to pronounce the judgment immediately.

The Attorney-General, Mr. Soli Sorabjee, mentioning the petition before the apex court Bench today, said even the request for time by the Special Prosecutor to read the voluminous papers of the case was refused by the judge hearing the appeals in the High Court.

``Whether the proceedings can be termed a farce or a tragedy it is expedient in the interest of justice that these appeals are directed to be transferred from the Madras High Court to any other High Court especially in view of the fact that the appellant in the appeals is the Chief Minister of the State,'' Mr. Sorabjee submitted.

He said there were over 2,200 papers in all the appeals and the High Court had refused permission to get copies of them. He described this as an extraordinary event taking place in the Madras High Court. This would shake the public confidence in the judiciary, held in high esteem everywhere, he added.

In his petition, Mr. Venkatapathi said he was not provided with the necessary papers pertaining to the appeals and without these papers he would not be able to discharge his duties as an impartial counsel. From the proceedings of the High Court, it was clear that a fair disposal of the appeals had become impossible and the very purpose of appointing him as an independent prosecutor was undermined and frustrated, he said.

The petition alleged that though the appeals were filed by Ms. Jayalalithaa in October last, suddenly after the new Government came in, an urgency was perceived in the disposal of the appeals.

The most disturbing part was that Ms. Jayalalithaa, after being sworn in as the Chief Minister, decided to go ahead with the prosecution of her appeals through the public prosecutor of the State Government appointed by her. Later, on the basis of PILs filed against the hearing of the appeals by State-appointed prosecutors, the High Court appointed Mr. Venkatapathi to prosecute the appeals, it said.