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Acquisition of Jaya's Poes Garden house for memorial quashed

The Madras High Court on Wednesday set aside all the orders of the previous AIADMK government starting from 2017 to 2020, which culminated in the take over and conversion of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence here-- Veda Nilayam into a memorial and wondered if “is it not one memorial too many,” considering that there was a Phoenix-themed memorial a few kilometers away from the locality, at the famed Marina Beach, for the deceased leader.

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Madras High Court 

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Chennai: The Madras High Court on Wednesday set aside all the orders of the previous AIADMK government starting from 2017 to 2020, which culminated in the take over and conversion of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's Poes Garden residence here-- Veda Nilayam into a memorial and wondered if "is it not one memorial too many," considering that there was a Phoenix-themed memorial a few kilometers away from the locality, at the famed Marina Beach, for the deceased leader.

Justice N Seshasayee, who passed the orders, also posed some questions to the government over spending of public money and criticised the then government for taking over a private land for a memorial, when one existed on the Marina, and for lapses in observing the procedure.

It is a wastage of public money, the judge held in his 123-page order.

The court quashed the orders while allowing a batch of three writ petitions and about 15 miscellaneous petitions with various related prayers filed by J Deepa and J Deepak, the niece and nephew, respectively, of the late AIADMK supremo.

The compensation amount, which the government had deposited in a lower court pursuant to the award, is liable to be returned with all accrued interest to the government, the judge said.

"In a State where the substantial number of its populace is struggling for a dignified life under the Constitution, for whom Part III and Part IV of the Constitution are yet to become relevant, the court may not remain insensitive and play Dhridarashtra (the visually impaired king and father of Kauravas in Mahabharatha) when the Government decides to divert crores of public money mindlessly. Has not the cry of the citizens reached the powers that be?" the judge wondered. Part III of the Constitution deals with fundamental rights, while part IV relates to directive principles of State policy.

The Court cancelled the July 22 2020 conversion order of the Land Acquisition officer in Guindy under the 'Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013' and ordered the Chennai District Collector, in whose custody the keys of 'Veda Nilayam' is, to hand them over to the petitioners within three weeks. The judge said that the Income Tax Department is free to proceed for recovering any arrears of tax payable by Jayalalithaa which is chargeable on her estate, as per law.

The issue was well within the concept of judicial review, as it faced an allegation of colourable exercise of statutory power. If it is not, there is a grave risk of wasting public money on erecting memorials for those whose life, taken wholly and not selectively, hardly has a message for the public. As long as public money is involved, a scrutiny by the court to examine if a memorial constitutes a public purpose can not be avoided, the judge noted.

Differentiating the memorial on the Marina, the judge pointed out it does not involve any acquisition and noted that Veda Nilayam is only a few kilometers away from the Marina.

"Is it not one memorial too many? What is the inspirational story that 'Veda Nilayam' may provide which the Marina memorial does not?. What then is the public purpose in acquiring a private residence of the former chief minister?. Beyond the smoke screen of 'policy decision' and the Government's prerogative to attribute 'public purpose', this Court is still searching for an answer."

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