Tamil Nadu

Madras High Court sets aside Palaniswami-led Tamil Nadu government’s decision to convert Jayalalithaa’s residence into a memorial, directs that it be handed over to her legal heirs

Published : November 24, 2021 19:49 IST

Veda Nilayam, Jayalalithaa’s residence at Poes Garden in Chennai. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

The order stated that acquiring a property for converting it into a memorial does not fall within the meaning of ‘public purpose’ under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act.

The Madras High Court, on November 24, set aside the decision taken by the former All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government to acquire the residence of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa (Veda Nilayam in the upmarket Poes Garden area in Chennai, where superstar Rajinikanth and other VIPs live), and to convert it into a memorial.

The order stated that acquiring a property for converting it into a memorial does not fall within the meaning of ‘public purpose’ under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act. “The government has come out with a memorial for Dr. J. Jayalalithaa at the place of her burial at considerable expenses to the public exchequer and hence converting her house into another memorial cannot be justified,” it added.

The court had a few questions to ask in its order: “The Marina memorial [of Jayalalithaa, built at a cost of about Rs.80 crore] does not involve any acquisition, but does it not inform that a memorial indeed has come up for Ms. Jayalalithaa? ‘Veda Nilayam’ is only a few kilometers away from the Phoenix-memorial. Is it not one memorial too many? What is the inspirational story that ‘Veda Nilayam’ may provide which the Marina memorial does not? What then is the public purpose in acquiring a private residence of the former Chief Minister? Beyond the smoke screen of ‘policy decision’, and the government’s (presumed) prerogative to attribute ‘public purpose’, this court is still searching for an answer.”

In a 123-page judgment, Justice N. Seshasayee directed the government to hand over the house to Jayalalithaa’s Class Two legal heirs, her nephew J. Deepak and niece Deepa Jayakumar. Both Deepak and Deepa had political ambitions soon after Jayalalithaa’s death. Deepa had even contested the byelection to Jayalalithaa’s Assembly constituency, R.K. Nagar, but failed to create even a ripple.

Deepa and Deepak had approached the High Court after the previous AIADMK government hurriedly notified the takeover of the Poes Garden property. In an earlier order, in 2018, which held Deepa and Deepak as Class Two legal heirs, the Madras High Court had suggested against converting the entire residence into a memorial (a portion could be a memorial, the court said). It had also suggested that it be made the official residence of the Chief Minister (the Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu does not have a designated official residence. Although former Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami converted a ministerial bungalow into his official residence, M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa as Chief Ministers and the current Chief Minister M.K. Stalin preferred to stay in their own houses in Chennai.

The court permitted the Income Tax Department to recover any arrears of tax payable by Jayalalithaa which is chargeable on her estate as per law. (In a 2020 petition, the Income Tax Department claimed that Jayalalithaa owed just over Rs.37.5 crore as income tax until January 31, 2021.) The Chennai District Collector, who was the custodian of the keys to the House, was directed to hand over the same to the legal heirs “within three weeks".

The judgment was reserved on April 28 this year after the Advocate-General of the then AIADMK government concluded his arguments. After the 2021 Assembly election, the results of which were declared on May 2, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) was voted to power. The judge, in the order, noted: The delay [in pronouncing the judgment] can be explained: “Of the seven months [that he took to arrive at the decision] COVID and post-COVID issues that I went through consumed at least about three months. And, I had to do my research and needed time for analysis.”

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