The Madras High Court set aside an order of the previous AIADMK regime to convert late J Jayalalithaa's residence into a memorial and handed it over to her niece and nephew.

Madras High Court criticizes TN govt on Veda Nilayam Image Description: OPS, EPS, and Jayalalithaa
news Court Thursday, November 25, 2021 - 18:40

The Madras High Court has pulled up the former AIADMK government under E Palaniswami saying it has an elaborate “game plan” to acquire Veda Nilayam – the Poes Garden residence of the late J Jayalalithaa in Chennai – and deny Deepak and Deepa, her nephew and niece, their rightful ownership of the property as her legal heirs. The Madras High Court bench of Justice  N Seshasayee passed its orders in a batch of writ petitions filed by Deepa and Deepak, challenging the orders of the state government to acquire the posh bungalow in Poes Garden and convert it into a memorial for the former AIADMK Chief.

On August 17, 2017 then Chief Minister E Palaniswami had announced that Veda Nilayam would be converted into a memorial and opened to the public in remembrance of her achievements and service to the people. The High Court struck down the government orders and directed the authorities concerned to hand over the keys of the property back to the petitioners. Justice Sheshasayee said he was not at all happy that the government, as well as government officials, tried all means to ensure that Deepa and Deepak did not acquire the residence. 

‘How could you not know Deepak is the legal heir?’

In a 123-page judgment, the High Court questioned how the government held in submissions to the court that Deepa and Deepak are not the owners of Veda Nilayam, and that they are only “persons interested.”

“Jayalalithaa was accorded a state funeral and her last rites were performed by her nephew, Deepak, who is one of the petitioners. Is this not a tacit acknowledgement by the political party that was then in power that Deepak was her heir?” the court asked, expressing shock that the government had maintained that the heirs of the registered holder are “yet to be ascertained.” The judge also pointed out that when Deepak approached the tahsildar, for the issuance of a legal heir certificate. The latter refused to issue it vide his proceedings dated September 22, 2017, and directed him to approach the Court. “It may be amusing to know that one of the reasons why he refused the legal heirship certificate was that Deepak had not produced the death certificate of late Jayalalithaa!!” the court noted in the judgment. 

“...irrespective of whether a legal heir certificate issued by a tahsildar has any conclusive significance for deciding the heir-ship of a person, and notwithstanding the fact that there was none to dispute the status of Deepak and Deepa, the tahsildar had chosen to reject it. Was the tahsildar labouring under a misconception?” the court asked in the order. 

‘A poorly drafted game plan’

Then, the court noted that two people, Pugazhethi and Janakiraman, both claiming to be AIADMK members, approached the High Court and applied for a Letter of Authorisation to take over Jayalalithaa’s estate and when a single-judge bench dismissed their plea, the two filed a review petition before a division bench. Why did two partymen “suddenly spring up from nowhere” to file this petition, the court wondered.  

“It is extremely suspicious that these men, whose inner party status was no more than party workers, would have filed these proceedings on their own accord. Has not the government considered it necessary not to take notice [of] it? Does it require a Sherlock Holmian intelligence to unravel any breath-taking mystery?” the court asked, stating that it was easy to notice that there was a “game plan”, though poorly drafted, to “create a roadblock for the petitioners in asserting their ownership over the property, and exploit the judicial process to accomplish it.”

“If the tahsildar’s decision to reject the legal heir certificate to Deepak is now fitted in the context, the needle of suspicion naturally starts tilting towards the motives of the government. Is this the opening chapter of what may be considered as a poorly drafted game plan?” the Madras High Court said. 

‘The state has a lot to explain’

The High Court also wondered whether the aim of the then Palaniswami-led AIADMK government was to ensure that Veda Nilayam is treated as ‘nobody’s property’ to make it easy to acquire. The High Court expressed shock that in the absence of the owners, or the legal heirs, the former Tamil Nadu government passed an ordinance to ensure Veda Nilayam is acquired by it.

“The worst is yet to come,” the judge observed. “An ordinance thereafter came to be promulgated inter alia for taking control of the movables and other valuables in Veda Nilayam, and the government, through its officials, has entered the building and claims to have taken an inventory of the articles, again in the absence of the owners.”

The High Court said that the law must be respected in its spirit and soul, and that citizen’s rights are ‘inalienable facets’ to ensure a government is fair, but “they are sacrificed” in this case of Veda Nilayam’s acquisition by the former AIADMK government. 

“Keenness of the political parties in power to honour their leaders is understandable, but in the present case, it appears to have gone awry when it failed to distinguish political leadership from ownership,” the court observed. “Excitement can be a killer, and in the instant case it does not appear to have spared even the government and its machinery,” the court said, adding that the then AIADMK government has “a lot to explain” about the way it handled the process to acquire Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence. 

“Legitimacy of power not backed by legitimate means of exercise can hardly be sustained in public law. The sequitur (conclusion/consequence) is that the acquisition of Veda Nilayam fails on yet another ground,” the HC ruled. 

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.