Madras High Court reserves verdict on AIADMK’s appeal against acquisition of Veda Nilayam

State did not appeal as 3 judges were against turning it into a memorial, says A-G

A Division Bench of the Madras High Court on Monday reserved its judgment on appeals preferred by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and former Law Minister C.Ve. Shanmugam. They had challenged a single judge’s November 24 order quashing proceedings initiated by the State Government, during the AIADMK regime, to acquire former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence and convert it into a memorial.

The Bench of Justices Paresh Upadhyay and Sathi Kumar Sukumara Kurup deferred its verdict after hearing day-long arguments by senior counsel A.L. Somayaji for the appellants, Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram for the government, senior counsel A.R.L. Sundaresan for Jayalalithaa’s nephew J. Deepak and senior counsel Satish Parasan for her niece J. Deepa, who had been declared as the legal heirs entitled to inherit all her properties.

Assailing the single judge’s order, Mr. Somayaji contended that the judge had discussed many things in his verdict though the legal heirs had not raised any such pleadings in their writ petitions. “First, there should be a plea, and then it should be supported by proof. In this case, there was neither plea nor proof. There was nothing in the pleadings to show that the acquisition was a colourable exercise of power, yet the judge had held so,” he said.

He said whether the acquisition was for a public purpose or not had to be decided by the Government and not the court. Referring to the judge’s observation that establishment of a memorial with public money could be justified only if the life and contribution of the person for whom the memorial was proposed approximates the life of Gandhiji and the likes, Mr. Somayaji said: “Today, there is no freedom movement. So that yardstick cannot be applied.”

The senior counsel said such observations were squarely outside the scope of the writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.Stating that Jayalalithaa had been a Chief Minister for six terms and had introduced several novel schemes, such as Amma Canteens, nutritious meal for schoolchildren, cradle baby scheme to take care of abandoned children and so on, he said she richly deserved a memorial.

Further wondering the need for the single judge to have questioned the necessity for converting Jayalalithaa’s residence into a memorial when the State had already constructed a mausoleum for her at the Marina beach, Mr. Somayaji said there were more than one memorial for many leaders including former Chief Ministers C. Rajagopalachari and K. Kamaraj.

The A-G told the court that it was not just the single judge but also a Division Bench of Justices N. Kirubakaran (since retired) and Abdul Quddhose, who declared the legal heirs of Jayalalithaa in May 2020, felt that acquiring the residence and converting it into a memorial was a waste of public funds. That was precisely the reason why the State Government decided not to appeal against the single judge’s verdict, he said.

He also recalled that two AIADMK partymen K. Pugazhenthi and P. Janakiraman too had filed petitions before the Division Bench led by Justice Kirubakaran seeking Letters of Administration to them to manage all properties left behind by Jayalalithaa. The Bench rejected their plea. However, then, their party did not disown those two individuals. “The same party is before this court now. It cannot reagitate the issue by way of the present appeals,” the A-G told the court.

Mr. Sundaresan and Mr. Parasaran denied the charge that the affidavits filed by their clients were bereft of necessary pleadings. The senior counsel pointed out that their clients had categorically contended that the entire acquisition was arbitrary, and hence liable to be quashed. “I may not have used the same words ‘colourable exercise of power’ as they were used by the learned single judge, but I have certainly pleaded the arbitrariness,” Mr. Sundaresan said. He brought it to the notice of the court that it had been the consistent stand of the legal heirs that there was no public purpose behind the acquisition.

It was the State’s contention that converting the residence into a memorial would promote tourism and therefore there was a public purpose behind the acquisition. “To read a memorial into tourism amounts to stretching things too much,” he said.

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