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Error in judgment

Editorial | New Delhi |

Karnataka’s decision to move a revision petition in the Supreme Court seeking to rectify an error that had crept into its 14 February judgment in the 19-year-old wealth case against former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha is a welcome move. A Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices PC Ghose and Amitava Roy set aside the Karnataka High Court order of September 2014 acquitting Jayalalitha, Sasikala, VN Sudhakaran and J Illavarasi of amassing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income, but ruled that the corruption case against Jayalalitha stood “abated” with her death on 5 December. The four were convicted by the Special Judge who tried the case and sentenced Jayalalitha to four years’ simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs 100 crore and the other three to similar terms of imprisonment and fines of Rs 10 crore each. Following Jayalalitha’s death, Sasikala through legally questionable means has captured the AIADMK and is ruling Tamil Nadu in the name of Jayalalitha by remote control from jail in Bengaluru where she is undergoing her jail term, much to the embarrassment and shame of the people of the state. For instance, the budget for 2017-18 was presented first by Finance Minister D Jayakumar on 16 March at the graveside of Jayalalitha on the Marina Beach and only later to the state Assembly. Jayalalitha’s photo still adorns government offices and full-page state advertisements with her picture have become a common feature.

The Karnataka government said in its review petition that Jayalalitha’s death had freed her from jail sentence but the fine of Rs 100 crore imposed by the trial court stood and should have been recovered from her vast estate. There is no provision in the Constitution or in the Supreme Court rules for such abatement. On the contrary, the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that both in case of civil appeals as well as in election petitions there would be no abatement if the death takes place after the conclusion of hearing. The Bench concluded arguments in Jayalalitha’s disproportionate wealth case on 7 June 2016 and reserved judgment. She died on 5 December. The judgment was delivered on 14 February. The criminal appeal of Jayalalitha involved offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The judgment said in a scathing attack on Jayalalitha, “Corruption is a vice of insatiable avarice for self-aggrandisement by the unscrupulous, taking unfair advantage of their power and authority in breach of the institutional norms, mostly backed by minatory loyalties. Both the corrupt and the corrupter are indictable and answerable to society and the country. This is more particularly in the people’s representatives in public life committed by the oath of office to dedicate oneself to the unqualified welfare of the people.” Recovering the fine of Rs 100 crore is not going to make a dent on the vast estate running into thousands and thousands of crore rupees with no known heir, but it will send a message to the corrupt that crime and punishment go hand in hand.