Jayalalithaa’s nephew and niece are her "Class II legal heirs": Madras High Court

Published : May 27, 2020 19:24 IST

Jayalalithaa’s residence ‘Veda Nilayam’, in Poes Garden, Chennai. Photo: M. Karunakaran

The Madras High Court today, while hearing a petition and appeals on issues relating to the administration of the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s properties, said it was “convinced” that J. Deepak and J. Deepa, children of the late Chief Minister’s brother J. Jayakumar, were her “Class II legal heirs”. In this connection, the State government’s decision to convert the late Chief Minister’s residence, ‘Veda Nilayam’ in Chennai’s Poes Garden, into a memorial also came up. The court “suggested” to the Tamil Nadu government that it “avoid” making the residence into a memorial “as it would incur huge expenses to the public exchequer”. Instead, it suggested that a portion of the property could be made a memorial and the rest into the “official residence-cum-office of the Chief Minister of the State”, but after hearing the legal heirs of Jayalalithaa.

The State government has been making efforts to convert the residence of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo into a memorial despite the fact that a huge memorial is being constructed at the site where her mortal remains were interred at Marina Beach.

Responding to a batch of petitions and appeals concerning the “administrative rights” of the properties of the late Chief Minister, who reportedly did not leave a Will under the Indian Succession Act 1925, the two-member bench of Justices N. Kirubakaran and Abdul Quddhose, in two separate verdicts, ruled that both J. Deepak and J. Deepa, nephew and niece respectively of Jayalalithaa were her legal heirs and hence the State should do any acquisition of the property [since attached by the Income Tax Department] after issuing notice and hearing both of them.

The court rejected the appeal petition filed by AIADMK cadres K. Pugazhethi and P. Janakiraman, who demanded that they should be “given the Letters of Administration to preserve and administer the estate of the late Chief Minister”, on the grounds that there was “malafide action” on the part of the two and that they had no locus standi to seek such a relief. After rejecting the same, the court found it to be “necessary” to go further into the matter. Pointing out the claims across the Bar that the value of the property would be around Rs100 crore, the court said the government should as per law issue notice to the legal heirs and hear them during acquisition proceedings.

The court further observed: “The compensation payable for acquiring the properties has to be determined and the said amount has to be paid to the legal heirs in case of land acquisition. Instead of acquiring the said property, and paying heavy compensation, the said amount could be utilised for developmental purposes such as building infrastructure, providing potable drinking water, cleaning of water bodies, etc. When there are so many essential amenities which are yet to be provided by the welfare State, public money cannot be wasted for the purpose of constructing memorials.”

If it intended to make it a memorial, then there would not be any end for such purposes, it said and noted that if every government decides to make the residences of their leaders who were chief ministers as memorials then unnecessarily public money would be utilised for setting up memorials alone.

Verdict on legal heirs

In a separate petition filed under Section 218 and 278 of the Indian Succession Act 1925 by J. Deepak, seeking the issuance of Letters of Administration, which the two AIADMK cadres K. Pugazhenthi and P. Janakiraman, as caveators, had opposed, the same bench observed that as the late Chief Minister died unmarried, without any issues, and no other kith or kin was available other than the petitioner and the respondent, who were children of her late brother. As such, “this court is convinced” that the two of them “are Class II legal heirs” of the late Chief Minister. Hence, they are entitled to grant of Letters of Administration in respect of the estate and credits of the late Chief Minister.”

Both Deepa and Deepak appeared before the court and stated that they were born and brought up in Poes Garden house and they were denied entry into Poes Garden house by the security during the lifetime of their aunt. Even after her demise, they could not enter the property. To a query from the court, both expressed their intention to create a trust making use of some of the properties, which were to be decided by them later, in the name of their late aunt for public purposes to do service to the general public. To this effect, they also filed their respective individual affidavits.

In view of the above stated position, the court held that Deepa and Deepak “are the Class-II legal heirs of Jayalalithaa, being the son and the daughter of the late Chief Minister’s brother. Both were entitled to the Letters of Administration in respect of the estate held individually by Jayalalithaa or in the names of the firms or companies and the credits of the deceased. They should create a registered Public Trust in the name of their late aunt for the purpose of doing public and social service as per their affidavits filed before this court within a period of eight weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order, the court said.

Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on August 17, 2017, announced that the late leader’s residence would be converted into a memorial. Pursuant to this, the government decided to “acquire” the house and land on October 5, 2017, but a slew of court cases delayed it. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit promulgated an ordinance on May 22, 2020, for the government to “temporarily” take possession of her house and movable items therein and to establish the ‘Puratchi Thalaivi Dr J Jayalalithaa Memorial Foundation’, with the Chief Minister as the chairperson, for making a long-term arrangement to convert the house into a memorial.

But the State’s move to attach and acquire the property has suffered a setback. Deepa, while welcoming the verdict that declared that both she and her brother as legal heirs to Jayalalithaa, had told the media that she would oppose the establishment of a memorial at her aunt’s residence.

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