Stopped In Her Tracks, Again
Months after CM Jayalalitha was asked to “keep hands off” from converting the Secretariat-Assembly complex into a super-speciality hospital, it is again the Madras high court that has stopped her from defiling the Anna Centenary Library by allowing the premises to be used for wedding receptions. The judges heard (and even saw pictures carried by the media) from opposing counsel how a shamiana was erected and a wedding reception held at the 1,280-seat library auditorium last Sunday. Jayalalitha has been too clever by half hoping her plan for the Assembly complex (to convert into a Super-speciality hospital) and the library (to convert the nine-floor structure that includes a children’s section over 15,000 sq ft into a children’s speciality hospital) will be seen as noble and not what it really is—vendetta against former CM Karunanidhi. It’s neither Karunanidhi’s nor the DMK’s money; it was the taxpayer who funded the Rs 500 crore already spent at the Assembly complex and the Rs 172 crore to build Asia’s largest library. Now the government has been forced to give an undertaking that it will do nothing till the case is decided.
Defiling The Library
An Information and public relations officer justified the decision to rent out the library for a wedding, saying, “It is not the main ceremony of the marriage. Besides, receptions are cultural events.” Moreover, the reception would earn the government Rs 2 lakh as rent. But advocate R. Prabhakaran who had filed the PIL to stop the conversion last year, counters, “It is a place of education. A marriage party is a recreational and commercial activity. This is an attempt to strip the building of its dignity and significance.”
Those using the library were not directly disturbed but the preparations for the wedding feast (despite a government rule saying eatables are not allowed into the library, they were cooking up a storm here), and the fact that the 700-vehicle car park had been turned into the dining area, upset them. And the morning after, the backyard of the library was littered with paper cups and plates.
In March, an Occupy Anna Library was organized by book lovers and students of Chennai in a campaign that was started on Facebook. In fact, the library used to get about 200 people everyday but the campaign led to Chennaites coming in droves, even going upto 1500 on the weekend. Sibi Kankaraj, studying then for his IAS exams, and his friends who were regular users of the library started the Facebook campaign after the government announced their decision. People have not yet recovered from the shock over amma’s plans for the world class library.
Buildings As Pawns
By her petty actions, Jayalalitha has also given Karunanidhi the opportunity to show her up. He says that “political vendetta” and “personal animosity” had led to the Jayalalitha government “neglecting” many landmark buildings including the Assembly-Secretariat complex, Anna Centenary Library, Medical College annexe that has been built but has not yet been inaugurated on the former Central Prison premises (where his son, M.K. Stalin was jailed during the emergency) and the Rs 100 crore police Commissioner’s office in Vepery which is ready but again, not inaugurated. What has really upset him is the fish pond in the Secretariat-Assembly complex beside which he spent many an evening being calmed by the colourful fish swimming around. “It was a feast for visitors to the building. After the new government assumed office, the fish were not fed and they died,” he regretted.
Tit For Tat
But in the TN style of tit for tat politics, Karunanidhi’s call for a “jail bharo” agitation is nothing but his way of needling amma. When 10 DMK ministers (and many other leaders and cadres) have been arrested by the special cell for land grab, it cannot be Karunanidhi’s case that all of them were acted upon because of malice alone. His call to his cadre was that “you should not come out on bail for any reason” and the agitation is only to “advise the government and not dislodge it” (not that he can even try with 23 MLAs).
While Karunanidhi meant to embarrass Jayalalitha, he ended up getting embarrassed himself because police refuse to give a judicial remand to all those arrested (Government says about 1 lakh, Karunanidhi claims 2.3 lakhs) and instead herded them into marriage halls from where they were released in the evening. Jayalalitha said that although the Madurai bench of the Madras high court ruled that preventive arrests could be made, she said she considered arresting them a “wasteful exercise” and directed the police to release them.
The only interesting thing was Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi's attempt to go to jail again! This time the circumstances were totally different from the one last May when she was sent to Tihar jail where she spent six months after being accused by the CBI of being involved in the 2G scam. Also Karunanidhi’s son Union Minister M.K. Azhagiri did not take part in the “jail bharo” adding one more dimension to the on-going feud between him and Stalin.
Even as CM Jayalalitha and the other accused are using every ruse to delay the disproportionate assets case being heard by a Special Court in Bangalore, charges have been framed recently against the CM’s disowned foster son V N Sudhakaran, under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1988.
Last week, Jayalalitha (and the other accused) filed petitions before the Special Court claiming that the appointment of B.M. Mallikarjunaiah (the judge before whom Jayalalitha answered over 1,000 questions last October and November) was made without issuing a gazette notification as prescribed in Section 3(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. They claimed that the state government had issued a notification on December 27, 2003, appointing A.S. Pachhapure as the judge of the special court. But after Pachhapure was elevated to the High Court, Mallikarjuniah was transferred on August 3, 2009 to take his place without a notification. They argued that all proceedings before Mallikarjuniah therefore should be annulled. The accused claimed since they got to know this anomaly now, they were petitioning the court. But prosecution counsel told the court: “The present belated objection taken three years after the event (read appointment of Mallikarjuniah) has been filed only to protract the present proceedings.”
Meanwhile, Sasikala added a petition of her own to delay the case. Sasikala, who has so far answered 599 questions (and has to answer 1,000 more), wanted the trial stayed because she was not given access to certain documents relating to the questions being put to her in the ongoing day-to-day trial. But a vacation bench of justices H. L. Gokhale and Ranjana Prakash Desai said, “We can’t give any interim relief and the trial will continue,” but granted two weeks time to Sasikala to place on record the necessary material in support of her contention.
But her nephew Sudhagaran is in no position to delay his redemption. Gobu Sridhar had made a complaint against Sudhakaran, and police investigating the case found a small plastic bag containing 16 gms of heroin at Sudhakaran’s house in T’Nagar. Sudhakaran was arrested and even as the investigation was on, another plastic bag with 72 gms of heroin was found at Sudhakaran’s office. Now Sudhagaran has been chargesheeted. According to the Special Public Prosecutor, Dhamal T. Kanna, the next hearing will be on July 19.
It’s Your Life...
The death last week of Tamizh Mani, son of AIADMK Minister Sellur K Raju, shows that motorcycle riders think that by breaking the helmet-rule they are thumbing their nose at authority, not realising that they are putting their own lives at danger. It also shows that cops are lax about implementing a rule and happy that the ones they catch give them bribes and get away. Sanjay Arora, Additional Commissioner of Police(Traffic) admits, “Twenty-five per cent of fatal accidents in Chennai involve two-wheelers and in 96 per cent of the cases, the rider is not wearing a helmet.” Adds V. Deivegan, professor of Neurosurgery, Madras Medical College, “60 to 80 cases of head injuries because the rider is not wearing a helmet are reported at the Government General Hospital.” A point to note is that this figure came from just one hospital! Also, according to statistics provided by the State Transport Authority, 5,133 accidents occurred in Chennai in 2011, of which 1,506 fatal accidents involved two-wheelers.
In 2007, the government made the wearing of helmets compulsory but it relaxed the rule following objections from a cross section of people. The then CM M. Karunanidhi, like all politicians capitulated for political gains. What would he or other rule-makers who go in their car convoys know about a badly built speed-breaker which turned out to be a death trap for Thamizh Mani, a yoga teacher, because he could not see it properly on our badly-lit roads and therefore lost control of his bike? Do politicians spare a thought for youth who live dangerously because speed thrills them till a loss of control or a skidding tyre results in them taking a fatal tumble? Anyway, when Jayalalitha came to power, once again the helmet rule was imposed but with a paltry fine of Rs 50.
But as they say, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Though over 2.85 lakh two-wheeler riders have been fined by the Chennai Traffic Police for not wearing helmets (a total of of Rs 1.83 crore has been collected up until April 21 this year), they constantly flout the rule. The cops, quite fed-up of riders who play with their own lives, despite knowing the risks, throw up their hands. Should they catch the helmet-less guys or should they concentrate on drivers (for instance those who drink and drive) who endanger the lives of others?
And The Mobiles...
Talking on the mobile is a major cause for accidents. The 40 passengers who were miraculously saved when the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) bus hurtled down Chennai’s first flyover, Gemini flyover (Chennai’s first flyover), last week say their saw the driver (Prasad) talking on his mobile. Yes, he was clutching a mobile in his hand but call records indicate that at the time he plunged his bus off the flyover, he was not talking unlike the rail motorman A. Raj Kumar, who was responsible for the killing of 11 passengers nine months ago. Raj Kumar was so busy talking on the mobile he did not see a red signal and his speeding train rammed into a stationary passenger train near Arakkonam on September 13 last year. He was dismissed from service recently.
But Prasad was definitely speeding and his defence that his seat came loose causing him to lose control has no takers particularly among the MTC management although they have turned a blind eye to badly maintained buses. And just two days after the Gemini flyover accident, a private bus of a Chennai-based company, carrying 41 passengers, fell into a ditch near Tiruttani, about 85 kms from here. The driver told the police he had been driving continuously from Friday— more than 24 hours— without a rest. All the passengers suffered injuries.
But in any case, despite an accident as serious as this, there is no action. And that is why a circular that is contemplated being issued to drivers and conductors that they should not carry mobiles during duty hours (punishment will include termination, but I wonder what the trade unions have to say about it), is going to wait for the transport minister, who is in Hungary, on a “study trip.” And then he has to get the final nod from amma who is away in Kodanadu. Obviously, the powers that be have not heard of emails/ faxes. What an irony that banning cellphone usage while driving has to wait for a minister’s presence!
Heart In The Right Place
We live in cynical times where philanthropy seems to be in the ICU. Even though it is often said that it is the judiciary which is really running this country, some judges have been a blot on the profession. Lawyers are another class that one is dismissive—sometimes downright insulting— about. But here’s a heart-warming story from the Madurai bench of the Madras high court where for the second time, a judge and some lawyers intervened financially so a student could continue studying.
The judge, Justice K.Venkataraman’s gesture came when he heard that the bank loan application of Uthayamanimaran for a loan— the student had applied for Rs 59,705 from a commercial bank so he could continue his second year in Diploma in Electronics and Communication Engineering— had been rejected. Ironic, because he was the son of a washerman and needed financial help. But the bank said that since he was not a merit student he was only eligible to come under the management quota and therefore could not be granted a loan under RBI guidelines.
But the student moved the court seeking an intervention and the case was listed last week before Judge Venkataraman. Even before his judicial intervention, the judge made a humanitarian intervention. He suggested that a group of lawyers, gathered in his court including T Lajapathi Roy, G Prabhu Rajadurai, Issac Mohanlal, Maheswaran, Ananthapadmanaban, EVN Siva and senior counsel Ajmal Khan chip in for the student— and they did.
Chennai Corner had written that last April Justice Venkatraman and some of the same lawyers including Roy, Khan and Mohanlal chipped in with Rs 10,000 each when Sathya, a student of engineering from a Thanjavur district college, was stopped by the management from giving her exam because she had not paid her arrears on her college fees. They and other lawyers together passed the hat to collect Rs 75,000 and gave it to Sathya so she would not have to discontinue her second year.