In a setback to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, the Karnataka government on Monday decided to challenge in the Supreme Court her acquittal by the state high court in the illegal wealth case.
"The chief minister (Siddaramaiah) has directed me to file an appeal in the Supreme Court, challenging Jayalalithaa's acquittal by the high court," Law Minister T.B. Jayachandra told reporters here after a cabinet meeting.
Earlier, the cabinet accepted the advice of state special public prosecutor (SPP) B.V. Acharya and state Advocate General Ravivarma Kumar to appeal against the high court verdict acquitting Jayalalithaa.
The 67-year-old AIADMK chief took oath as chief minister for the fifth time in Chennai on May 24 after the single judge bench of Justice C.R. Kumaraswamy upheld her appeal, quashed all charges against her and set aside her conviction and four-year sentence a trial court here handed down to her on September 27, 2014.
Acharya, a former state advocate general, will be the state government's Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) to argue the case in the apex court.
Though the ruling Congress's legal cell last month advised the government against appealing to the Supreme Court, as Karnataka was not an aggrieved party to the 19-year-old case, the cabinet endorsed the opinion of its law officials on merit after the apex court ruled that the state was the sole prosecuting agency, following the transfer of the case to the state on November 19, 2003, from a Chennai trial court.
"A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on April 27 directed the state government to appoint an SPP in the long-drawn case as Karnataka was the prosecuting agency on transfer of the case to a Bengaluru trial court," Jayachandra said.
The bench, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, remarked that once the case was shifted to Karnataka, the state has no choice but to step into the shoes as a prosecutor.
The court also observed that Karnataka must understand its responsibilities and ensure smooth and fair prosecution as it "has an obligation to do so".
Clarifying that the decision has nothing to do with inter-state issues, Jaychandra said the cabinet decision was based on merits and the government's moral responsibility to honour the top court's observations and abide by its ruling in the case.
The two southern riparian states are locked in a legal battle over the sharing of the Cauvery river water for irrigation and hydel power generation and to supply drinking water from Karnataka's Yettinahole stream near Kanakapura to Bengaluru rural, Kolar and Chikkaballapur.
The Karnataka High Court, holding the value of Jayalalithaa's disproportionate assets at Rs.2.82 crore, instead of Rs.53.6 crore computed by the trial court, held the amount "not enough" to convict Jayalalithaa on corruption charges.
Justice Kumaraswamy also acquitted Jayalalithaa's three co-convicts, sentenced to four years jail and fined Rs.10 crore each for allegedly amassing wealth disproportionate to their source of income during her first term as chief minister from 1991-96.
The co-convicts are Sasikala Natarajan, her nephew V.N. Sudhakaran and her aunt J. Ellavarsi. Sudhakaran is also the disowned foster son of Jayalalithaa.
Acharya, however, claimed that there were glaring arithmetical errors in the voluminous high court judgment, especially with respect details of assets, loan raised and income earned.
"I expected the high court to conform to the trial court judgment, which had convicted Jayalalithaa," Acharya told IANS hours after the verdict.
He also contended that Justice Kumaraswamy did not give an opportunity to put forth oral arguments, which was prejudicial to the prosecution.
"The court gave me just a day to make submission, which was insufficient. I feel it (the case) should go to the Supreme Court," Acharya had maintained.