In 1997, the whole of India was stunned when a staggering cache of valuables including gold, silver, thousands of yards of expensive sarees and 750 pairs of footwear were seized during raids at the Poes Garden residence of AIADMK chief and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
It has been 26 years since, but the assets worth crores of rupees are gathering dust in a vault at the treasury branch of the Vidhana Soudha in Karnataka, and are yet to be disposed of.
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An RTI activist has brought the matter to the Karnataka government’s attention once again through his letter dated March 9, 2023. Even though T Narasimhamurthy, the RTI activist, says that his earlier letters to the government didn’t elicit any response, sources say that this time Law Minister JC Madhuswamy has taken a serious note of the matter and asked concerned officials to expedite the process to dispose of the valuables.
Deaf ears to court orders
It is to be noted that no steps have been taken by the Karnataka government to dispose of the valuables of Jayalalithaa seized in the disproportionate assets case despite several courts issuing orders on the same since 2021.
While CBI court judge Shivaram passed an order in this regard on June 28, 2021, the Registrar General of the Karnataka High Court has written to the state government requesting it to take necessary action at least four times (July 8 2021, August 19 2021, December 17 2021, and October 21, 2022). High Court judge MA Mohan also sent letters twice (November 11 2021 and October 12 2022 ) to the state government in this regard, but to no avail.
The special court in charge of the trial in January this year ordered the Karnataka government to appoint a Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) to dispose of the properties of Jayalalithaa.
The Principal City Civil and Sessions Judge and First Appellate Authority (FAA) gave the order based on a petition filed by Narasimhamurthy.
‘Assets can be auctioned to fans’
At least 11,344 expensive sarees, 44 air-conditioners, 33 telephones/intercoms, 131 suitcases, 91 watches, 27 clocks, 86 fans, 146 decorative chairs, 34 teapots, 31 tables, 24 couches, nine dining tables, eight hanging tables, 20 sofa sets, 31 dressing table mirrors, 215 crystal-cut glasses, three iron lockers, 250 shawls, 12 refrigerators, 10 television sets, eight VCR sets, 1 video camera, four CD players, two audio decks, 24 two-in-one tape recorders and 1,020 video cassettes were seized during the raids at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence in 1997.
Large amounts of gold and silver jewellery and idols of gods and goddesses besides ₹1.93 lakh cash were also confiscated.
Narasimhamurthy in his appeal had told the court that if the confiscated items are not needed as evidence in court, they can be auctioned so that Jayalalithaa’s fans, who have a deep love and emotional attachment for the actress, can buy them. The proceeds can be used for the benefit of the public, Narasimhamurthy had reasoned.
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“Thousands of sarees, diamond-turquoise, silver-gold, electronic products seized from the late former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who was convicted in a corruption case, should be sold according to law or according to the discretion of the court and the proceeds should be deposited in the government coffers. It can be used for the benefit of the public,” he wrote in his letter.
Apparel experts believe that if the sarees, shawls and slippers are not used, they will turn brittle and wouldn’t be useful anymore.
“If these items are not needed as evidence in court or otherwise, they can be disposed of and the proceeds can be used for the benefit of the public. As no action has been taken for disposal, the quality of sarees and other items in the treasury will deteriorate,” Narasimhamurthy told The Federal.
Narasimhamurthy says he shot a fresh letter to the law department on March 9, 2023 after not getting a response from the department’s principal secretary.
Sources say Law Minister JC Madhuswamy has taken a serious note of the letter and asked concerned officials to expedite the process to dispose of the valuables.
In 2001, the DMK government helmed by M Karunanidhi, which had lost power to Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK, urged the trial court to move the proceedings outside Tamil Nadu to ensure a fair trial. The case was later transferred to the neighbouring state of Karnataka.
On September 27, 2014, a special court in Bengaluru declared Jayalalithaa, her friend VK Sasikala, Ilavarisi and Jayalalithaa’s adopted son Sudhakaran guilty of corruption in the disproportionate assets case. The judgment of the subordinate court was upheld by the Supreme Court. The special court in Bengaluru sentenced Jayalalithaa to four years in jail and imposed on her a fine of ₹100 crore.
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Confiscated valuables of the former chief minister should be sold by the Indian Reserve Bank of India or through public auction. “It may be recalled that it was ordered that the proceeds should be adjusted to the fine amount,” said the RTI activist.