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No interim bail for Kanchi Acharya

By J. Venkatesan

NEW DELHI, DEC. 17. The Supreme Court today declined to grant interim bail to the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, arrested on November 11 in the `Sankararaman murder case'. The Acharya had pleaded for interim bail to enable him to perform `Dhanur masa puja' at the Sankara Mutt in Kancheepuram under police guard.

A three-Judge Bench, comprising Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti, Justice G.P. Mathur and Justice P.P. Naolekar, while rejecting interim relief, issued notice to the Tamil Nadu Government on the special leave petition filed by the Acharya challenging an order of the Madras High Court on December 8 dismissing his bail plea.

The Bench told senior counsel Fali Nariman appearing for the Sankaracharya, that no interim relief would be possible, as it wanted to examine the entire matter. The Judges asked the senior counsel for the State, K.T.S. Tulsi, to produce all the records in the court on January 6 and to keep ready the case diary for its perusal.

When the matter was taken up, Mr. Nariman submitted that the High Court had erroneously rejected bail applying the ruling laid down by the apex court in the `Pappu Yadav case'. Citing a five-Judge Constitution Bench ruling, he said the High Courts had the power to grant bail on the facts and circumstances of each case.

`Professional misconduct'

When the Bench wanted to know about the confessional statements, Mr. Nariman said two of the accused, Kathiravan and Rajni alias Chinna, gave confessions before a Magistrate on November 19 implicating the Acharya. However, on November 24, they retracted their statements before the same judicial magistrate. When the Judges asked counsel about the confessional statement said to have been made by the Acharya in police custody, Mr. Nariman said that "it was a professional misconduct on the part of the prosecution to have submitted it when it was not admissible in evidence and what is more surprising is how the High Court allowed it to be produced in the court."

The Bench then asked Mr. Tulsi about the witness statements and the progress of the investigation. Mr. Tulsi said that since the investigation was yet to be completed it would not be possible to reveal the names of the witnesses. Giving their names would result in danger to their lives. But he agreed to produce the documents in court to indicate the investigation done so far.

Mr. Tulsi objected to the Acharya moving directly the Supreme Court seeking bail in the "Radhakrishnan assault case" of 2002 bypassing the High Court. He said that, "they want to lay down a new law." Senior counsel Gopal Subramanian, appearing for the Acharya in this case along with Mr. Nariman, said that no purpose would have been served by moving the High Court as the Sessions Court had relied on the same judgment relied on by the High Court refusing bail in the Sankararaman murder case. In the light of Mr. Tulsi's objection, the Bench told the Acharya's counsel: "This matter would be kept pending. Meanwhile you move the High Court [against the Sessions court order] and if necessary come to the Supreme Court."

Mr. Nariman then pleaded for granting interim bail to the Acharya, but the Bench asked him: "Why did you come so late when the High Court had dismissed the bail petition on December 8 itself." "At this stage we will only issue notice," it said.

The Bench, in its brief order, directed the prosecution to produce details of the bank accounts from which money was allegedly withdrawn to pay the assailants; who was authorised to withdraw the money and who had actually withdrawn it; the passbooks seized by the police; the confessional statements of the accused and the retraction thereof and the last letter said to have been written by Sankararaman to the Acharya and cited by the prosecution as a dying declaration.

Related Stories:
Sankararaman murder case: a status report

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