Disproportionate assets case

Trials & tribulations

Print edition : June 12, 2015

Special Public Prosecutor B.V. Acharya arriving at the City Civil Court to attend the hearing in the disproportionate assets case in Bangalore on June 27, 2005. Photo: G. P. Sampath Kumar

G. Bhavani Singh speaking to the media outside the Special Court in Bangalore on September 27, 2014. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

K. Anbazhagan, the DMK's general secretary. He challenged the continuation of G. Bhavani Singh as the SPP in the applellate hearing. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

The removal and reappointment of B.V. Acharya as the Special Public Prosecutor has been among the most controversial developments in the disproportionate assets case involving Jayalalithaa.

ALTHOUGH B.V. Acharya was forced to resign from the post of Special Public Prosecutor of Karnataka in August 2012, it was his untiring work as SPP during the early stages of the trial that helped secure the conviction of Jayalalithaa and three others in the Rs.66.65-crore disproportionate assets case. In September 2014, the XXXVI Additional City Civil & Sessions (Special Court for Trial of Criminal Cases against Jayalalithaa & Others), Bangalore, sentenced the four accused to a four-year prison term and fines totalling Rs.130 crore. Acharya resigned the post, which he had held for over seven years, saying “he had suffered untold hardship and embarrassment at the instance of interested parties whose sole objective appeared to be to get rid of [him]”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka headed by Jagdish Shettar appointed G. Bhavani Singh the SPP in February 2013. He appeared both during the final stages of the arguments in the sessions court and during Jayalalithaa’s appellate hearing before the Special Bench of the Karnataka High Court.

But, in an unexpected turn of events, Acharya was re-appointed following the Supreme Court’s ruling on April 27 that the appointment of Bhavani Singh as SPP in the appellate hearing was “bad in law”.

But the reinstatement of Acharya was not without controversy. Bhavani Singh was summarily removed as SPP in August 2013 when the Congress came to power but was reinstated by the Supreme Court in September 2013, and he continued in that role even after the trial in the Jayalalithaa case was completed.

The continuation of Bhavani Singh—who refused to step down on the grounds that he had been appointed prosecutor in the appellate stage as well on the basis of an order passed by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), Tamil Nadu—was challenged by Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (DMK) general secretary K. Anbazhagan in the Karnataka High Court on the grounds that the accused (Jayalalithaa) was in collusion with the SPP (Bhavani Singh). (Karnataka had taken the stand that its role had ended with the conduct of the trial, and so did not take steps to consult the Chief Justice of the High Court and appoint a prosecutor for the appeal stage.) He also felt that Bhavani Singh had not been appointed according to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to represent the prosecution, which in this case was the DVAC.

In his petition, Anbazhagan contended that the original notification of February 2, 2013, on the appointment of Bhavani Singh was limited to the trial stage and could not be “stretched” to include the appellate stage. His stand was that the continuation of Bhavani Singh as SPP was illegal and unlawful as the Karnataka government had not issued a fresh order of appointment as the case was now before the High Court after it had concluded in the lower court. But with the High Court rejecting Anbazhagan’s plea and upholding Jayalalithaa’s contention that it was “not genuine” and was politically motivated, Anbazhagan challenged Bhavani Singh’s continuation as SPP in the Supreme Court, where a two-judge bench gave a split verdict.

The stalemate was broken on April 27 when a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, interpreted the CrPC to hold that when a “Special Public Prosecutor is appointed for any specific case and, that too, for any specific court, it is a restricted appointment”, and also that if any counsel was to be appointed for the purpose of an appeal, the State government may do so only after consulting the Advocate General or the Director of Prosecution in a civil or criminal case respectively. The court ruled that there was nothing on record to show that this procedure had been followed in the appointment of Bhavani Singh.

The Supreme Court said: “It cannot be construed to the extent that solely because he [Bhavani Singh] has been appointed in connection with the trial case, he can appear before the High Court for which he has not been appointed—it would lead to an anomalous situation. A public prosecutor has to be specifically appointed for the appeals or revisions or other proceedings in the High Court.”

Ruling that Karnataka was the sole prosecuting agency in the pending appeals filed by Jayalalithaa and three others against their conviction, the court directed the Karnataka government to file its written submissions (of not more than 50 pages) as the prosecuting agency before the High Court by April 28, which would be considered by the High Court judge before the judgment was delivered on the appeals by Jayalalithaa and others. The bench further directed the judge of the High Court’s Special Bench not to take heed of the arguments made by Bhavani Singh. However, the court dismissed any need for a fresh hearing of the appeals, reasoning that the hearing could not “be abandoned solely because there was no proper assistance” from the prosecution. The court said: “There is no justification for fresh hearing, especially when the appeals have been heard at length and judgment is reserved.”

On the evening of April 27, Acharya, who had conducted the trial of the case as SPP from 2004 to 2012, was reappointed SPP by the Siddaramaiah government and “given just a day as per the Supreme Court’s directions to file a written submission”. According to Acharya, it was “hardly enough time”. Nor was he allowed to make oral submissions in court.

He said: “I was denied permission to make oral arguments, which were crucial. The principles of natural justice were denied to the prosecution during the appeal proceedings and they turned out to be a one-sided affair as the prosecuting State, Karnataka, was neither a party nor was it heard. The entire appeal proceedings were conducted without making Karnataka a party, though it was a necessary legal requirement. Counsel for the accused was allowed to make oral arguments for nearly two months, but no prosecutor authorised by Karnataka was present during such arguments.”

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