'Taxation cannot be equated with ownership'

CHENNAI, NOV. 1. Even the last day of hearings in the `TANSI land deals appeals case' was not without its slice of dramatic moments. In a surge that was long overdue, the Special Prosecutor, Mr. K.V. Venkatapathi, countered a main defence argument and said, ``merely because a public corporation paid local taxes to civic bodies, one cannot say the Government has no ownership over the corporation's properties''.

He even drifted into a brief and mild spat with Mr. Justice N. Dinakar, who later reserved judgment in the appeals, marking the end of an exhaustive 18-day proceedings.

``Taxation is a subject which cannot be equated with ownership'', senior counsel said, adding that the Government was the absolute owner of both the TANSI and its properties. ``The company is formed and aided by the Government; its control is vested with the Government; monetary resources come from the Government; and the Government owned all its shares. Under these circumstances, one cannot accept the defence argument that the Government could not stake claim to its lands'', argued Mr. Venkatapathi.

Challenging the defence line of arguments pertaining to the code of conduct for Ministers, Mr. Venkatapathi sought to defend its legal sanctity, saying, ``the very purpose of the code will be defeated if the argument that it has no power is accepted''.

Citing a Supreme Court ruling, he said it was the duty of the executive to fill the vacuum with relevant executive orders (such as the code)...till such a time the Legislature enacted a law.

He also faulted the arguments of Ms. Jayalalithaa's counsel, Mr. K.K. Venugopal, who had relied on the facts of a case against the former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, N.T. Rama Rao. The petitioner sought to unseat Mr. Rao for havig acted in a film (`Brahmarishi Vishwamitra') while in office, thereby violating a code of conduct for Ministers. A full Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court dismissed the petition.

Citing the same judgment, Mr. Venkatapathi pointed out that the code of conduct in that case was applicable only to Ministers and not to Chief Minister. ``The code itself could be enforced only by the Chief Minister (Mr. Rao)'', he argued.

On the defence argument regarding charges under Section 169 IPC (public servant unlawfully bidding or purchasing Government property), the prosecutor said the definition of the word `illegal' was applicable to every offence prohibited by law. Since Section 169 effectively prohibits a public servant from purchasing Government property, any violation on that count will attract penal action.

Earlier, Mr. Sathyanarayanan, counsel for the third accused, Mr. T.R. Srinivasan, who was the then Chairman and Managing Director of TANSI, said he was only one among the Board Members and ``if you (prosecution) don't charge others you should not charge me also, because the decision was collective and unanimous''.

Swamy's additional arguments

In his additional written arguments submitted in the court, the Janata Party president, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, accused Ms. Jayalalithaa, Mr. T.R. Srinivasan and Mr. Mohammad Asif of having failed to protect the stated Government policy of structuring the TANSI sale in such a way as to maximise the returns.

He alleged that Ms. Jayalalithaa knew all along about the transaction, and did not protect public property from being sold against public interest. Moreoever, the ``TANSI is a Government company. Even if it is not a public limited company, it is not a private company either''.

With the conclusion of arguments in the`Jaya Publications case' and the`Sasi Enterprises case', the focus has now shifted to the judgment factor in these appeals. As agreed upon by both the sides, hearings in the `Pleasant Stay Hotel case' will commence on November 9.

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