In a set back to the Tamil Nadu government, the Madras High Court on Wednesday (May 27) asked the state to reconsider its decision to convert late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s residence in Chennai into a memorial and declared her niece and nephew as the legal heirs of the property worth several crores.
A division bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and Abdul Quddhose suggested that Veda Nilayam, located in the upmarket Poes Garden, be converted into the official residence of the Chief Minister, while a portion of the property could be a memorial if needed.
The order came days after Governor Banwarilal Purohit promulgated an ordinance to allow the government to take temporary possession of Veda Nilayam and set up a foundation, under Chief Minister K Palaniswami, to convert it into a memorial.
Allowing a petition by Jayalalithaa’s niece and nephew—Deepa and Deepak, seeking letters of administration to manage her properties, the bench said, “Deepak and Deepa are second class legal heirs of the late CM, being the son and daughter of her late brother Jayakumar.”
Deepa and Deepak shall allot a few properties, according to their discretion, and create a registered public trust in the name of their late aunt to do social service, within eight weeks from the date of receipt of the order copy, the bench said.
The court posted the matter for reporting compliance with regard to the creation of a trust after eight weeks. It dismissed another plea moved by AIADMK cadre K Pugalenthi who sought his appointment as the administrator of the properties of Jayalalithaa.
Deepa and Deepak submitted that they had no objection in doing so, since it was their aunt’s wish.”But as the only legal heirs of Jayalalithaa, we are entitled to all her properties. We have plans to establish a trust in her name and do charity to the people through it,” they stated in the petition.
According to the petitioners, they had approached the jurisdictional tahsildar on August 16, 2017, seeking the issue of legal heir certificates in their favour to inherit properties of Jayalalithaa. But through a reply, dated September 22, 2017, the official refused to issue the certificates and directed them to obtain it by approaching the appropriate civil court.
In August last year, the court, while reserving the orders, sought to know why a portion of Jayalalithaa’s properties should not be allotted for the welfare of the public, as she was the leader who had always said she was made by the people and worked for the people.
After the demise of Jayalalithaa on December 5, 2016, controversies surrounded the administration of her properties worth ₹913 crore. In 2017, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced that the 24,000 square feet residence of Jayalalithaa in Poes Garden would be converted into a memorial.
On May 22, the Governor promulgated an ordinance to take possession of Veda Nilayam temporarily and to establish ‘Puratchi Thalaivi Dr J Jayalalithaa Memorial Foundation’ for making long-term arrangements to convert Veda Nilayam into a memorial. The building was named ‘Veda Nilayam’ after Jayalalithaa’s mother Vedavalli.
The government had said the ordinance was promulgated since “the building of Veda Nilayam, including movable items such as furniture, books, jewels, etc. are in a state of disuse for more than three years.”
So the state decided to maintain all the immovable and movable properties until the acquisition process is complete, it had said. The government, while formally commencing the process of acquiring the sprawling three-storeyed residence early this month, said the legal heir of the building was yet to be ascertained.
Welcoming the order, Deepak told reporters he and her sister would decide which part of the house should be converted into a memorial. “We have been asked to give a compliance report. As of now, we will focus on that,” said Deepak. Deepa was not available for comment.
Speaking to The Federal, Pugazhendi said he was the first person to demand that Jayalalithaa’s residence be owned by the state.
“Jayalalithaa died intestate. Only her mother wrote a will. Jaya never appointed anyone as her legal heir. Neither Deepa nor Deepak lived with Jaya in that residence. They never stood by her when she was facing [court] cases. They never visited Jaya when she was in prison. But now they say they have rights in her property,” he said
Pugazhendi added, “The court has pronounced that they were the heirs based on the blood relation. After eight weeks, I will intervene in the case if my party permits me to do so. Definitely, the residence will be converted into a memorial” he said.
(With agency inputs)