In a relief to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the Supreme Court on Monday quashed the withdrawal of Special Public Prosecutor Bhavani Singh in a corruption case against her.
"... we are of the considered opinion that the order of removal of G. Bhavani Singh ...is a product of mala fide and the impugned order is not sustainable in the eyes of law, as such the same is hereby quashed, the court said.
The apex court also asked the state high court to consider giving extension to the presiding judge in the case, who is retiring on Monday upon his superannuation, in consultation with the state government.
A bench of Justice BS Chauhan and Justice SA Bobde said: "We refer the matter to the high court of Karnataka to decide on the administrative side as to whether, in order to conclude the trial expeditiously as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution requires the extension of the services of the learned Special Judge."
Noting that the Karnataka government in consultation with the high court was competent to appoint a special judge on contractual basis after his retirement for the period required to conclude the present trial, the court, in its order, said: "Considering the urgency of the matter, we request the High Court of Karnataka to take a decision in this regard as early as possible."
Restoring Bhavani Singh as SPP, the court said: "The evidence led in the case is very bulky as it runs into 34,000 pages. In case a new judge starts hearing the matter, he is bound to take a long time to understand the factual and legal niceties involved in the case.
"Accordingly, we have no hesitation in holding that the notification purporting to revoke the appointment of G. Bhavani Singh as SPP is liable to be struck down."
Holding that the decision to remove Singh had political overtones, the court said: "In our opinion, though there is an undoubted power with the government to withdraw or revoke the appointment within Section 21 of the General Clauses Act, but that exercise of power appears to be vitiated in the present case by malafides in law inasmuch as it is apparent on record that the switch-over of government in between has resulted in a sudden change of opinion that is abrupt for no discernable legally sustainable reason."
"The sharp transitional decision was an act of clear unwarranted indiscretion actuated by an intention that does not appear to be founded on good faith, the court said.
Jayalalithaa and two other co-accused in the case relating to having assets disproportionate to known sources of income had moved the apex court contending that when the trial in the 18-year-old case was nearing conclusion, the Congress government in Karnataka, at the behest of her political rivals in Tamil Nadu politics, withdrew Bhavani Singh from the case when he was in the third day of his final arguments.
DMK general secretary K Anbazhagan had moved the Karnataka High Court seeking the removal of Bhavani Singh. At that point of time, Singh was removed by the state government.
Though Bhavani Singh was brought back after Jayalalithaa moved the apex court challenging his abrupt removal, he was again withdrawn from the case after consultation with the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court as was provided in the earlier order of the top court.
The case against Jayalalithaa relates to the period from 1991 to 1996 when she was Tamil Nadu chief minister. The trial in the case was shifted outside Chennai by the apex court in 2003 to ensure a free and fair trial.