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CHENNAI: Legal wrangles over the estates of J Jayalalithaa and her other assets have just started to warm up, one year since she was laid to rest on the Marina. These will reach a boiling point soon giving way to the appointment of an administrator to manage the assets, say jurists.
There are multiple potential claimants to the assets which fall in three categories: owned before Jayalalithaa became chief minister in 1991, acquired during her 1991-96 term and frozen because of the corruption case, and property acquired after 1996.
A quick math of Jayalalithaa’s moveable assets including 28 kg gold and diamond jewellery lying in a Karnataka court locker and immovable assets across Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad would show they are worth more than Rs 1,000 crore now. Since
she did not leave behind a will+
bequeathing even the unlitigated property to anyone, it is going to be a long-drawn legal process before someone rightfully inherits them.
“It will be hardly a short process,” said former public prosecutor of Tamil Nadu S Jayakumar. “She has not left behind a will and besides her class 2 legal heir Deepa and her brother Deepak, there are reports of new claimants who, if proved, could become the class 1 heir,” said Jayakumar, who along with his senior N Jyothi, was the trusted lawyer for Jayalalithaa for several crucial years. “If claimants apply for legal heir certificate, the onus of ascertaining their genuineness would fall on revenue authorities. Ultimately courts alone would be able to settle the issue, but it will take a lot time,” he said.
Former advocate-general of Tamil Nadu N R Chandran, who advised the Jayalalithaa government during crises such as en masse termination of 1.7 lakh government employees, said courts might appoint an administrator if a PIL was filed. As per the Hindu Succession Act, if there are heirs falling in the legal chart, they would inherit the property, he said.
DMK lawyer A Saravanan, who spent years assisting prosecution of Jayalalithaa, has a different take. He said property frozen by vigilance authorities and courts could not be released because the Supreme Court had not given a clean chit to the former CM. As the Karnataka government’s appeal against her acquittal alone abated, coupled with the fact that the SC stated that she had amassed wealth in her name and her three associates, the property will have to be taken possession of by the government and auctioned, said Saravanan.
Advocate K Pugalenthi of KK Nagar in Chennai has already moved the high court for a direction to identify all property belonging to Jayalalithaa and bring them under a court-appointed administrator. Orders on the case have been reserved.
“We have tentatively assessed the market worth of the assets as Rs 913 crore,” Pugalenthi told TOI. “In 1996 a gram of gold was Rs 474, but now it is around Rs 2,600. We have updated all values and think the actual worth of Jayalalithaa’s wealth would be about Rs4,000 crore,” Pugalenthi said, adding that just as in the case of MGR’s assets, courts must appoint an administrator to manage the estates of Jayalalithaa.
But how to identify assets standing in the name of Jayalalithaa and those held by benamis, if any? “It is very difficult, but not impossible,” says Jayakumar. If a credible person invokes writ jurisdiction of the court under Article 226 of the Constitution, it is possible for courts to implead revenue secretary as party to the case and make all sub-registrars to come out with the list of property registered in the name of Jayalalithaa.
There are multiple claimants to Jayalalithaa’s assets, making inheritance all the more difficult. Referring to the claims made by the latest entrant Amritha, a senior lawyer, who was closely associated with Jayalalithaa, said if her case had to be rejected it should be only after DNA matching.
The Tamil Nadu government too has become a possible litigant as it seeks to take over the Poes Garden residence of Jayalalithaa and convert it into a memorial. “While the state’s right to take over private property for public causes cannot be questioned, the process needs to be followed. It has to either take consent of the heirs or pay them compensation,” he said, adding: “In this case, Deepa and Deepak’s position as sole heirship has come under strain due to claims made by Amritha. As it will take ages to settle the claims, the government and courts have no other way but to name an administrator to ensure that the assets are not unfairly exploited,” the lawyer said.
Saravanan, however, says either the Karnataka government or the directorate of vigilance and anti-corruption wing of Tamil Nadu police must initiate steps to take possession of property listed in the corruption case. “They are state property and must be sold by auction or used for a public purpose. It is due to weak political will that they are not touching Jayalalithaa’s property,” said Saravanan.