A Division Bench of Justices N.Kirubakaran and Abdul Quddhose of the Madras HC has on May 27, 2020, invoking power under Article 226 and S. 151 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 has directed the State Government to use the property of Dr. J Jayalalithaa situated at Poes Garden “VEDA NILAYAM” as “Official Residence-cum-Office of the Chief Minister of the State” in the dispute concerning her heirship and succession of the property.
Background of the case:
Late Chief Minister Dr. J Jayalalithaa was hospitalized, and she died in Apollo Hospital on December 05, 2016, due to health complications. Since she was unmarried, the question of who the legal heir is arose. Since there was no petition filed before any Court claiming the properties of Late Chief Minister Dr. J Jayalalithaa by close relatives, the appellants' claiming themselves as the members of AIADMK party emotionally attached with the leadership of the deceased had filed the petition under Section 217, 253, 254 and 278 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 for the grant of Letters of Administration without Will for Administration of properties and credits of Late Dr. J Jayalalithaa estimating the worth about a sum of Rs.913,41,68,179.01/-
Initially, the petition was posted for maintainability before the learned Single Judge and he had rejected as not maintainable as the petition lacked bonafide. An appeal against that order was filed before Division Bench. During the hearing, the Court had also impleaded Mr. J. Deepak and Ms. J. Deepa who are the brother's children of Late Chief Minister Dr. J Jayalalithaa as 2nd and 3rd respondents. They are class-II legal heirs of late Chief Minister.
S. 218 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 which is of interest is produced here below.
218. To whom administration may be granted, where deceased is a Hindu, Muhammadan, Buddhist, Sikh, Jaina or exempted person.
(1) If the deceased has died intestate and was a Hindu, Muhammadan, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina or an exempted person, administration of his estate may be granted to any person who, according to the rules for the distribution of the estate applicable in the case of such deceased, would be entitled to the whole or any part of such deceased's estate.
(2) When several such persons apply for such administration, it shall be at the discretion of the court to grant it to any one or more of them.
(3) When no such person applies, it may be granted to a creditor of the deceased."
Interpreting the above Section, the Court held that any person can apply for grant of probate and Letters of Administration. The said Section also fixes the qualification regarding the persons who can maintain the application i.e. a person who, according to rules for the distribution of the estate, is entitled to the whole or part of such deceased estate is entitled and not to anybody and everybody. Despite such qualification under Section 218 of the Act, the appellants without any right to entitlement have approached the Court for the relief set out earlier. Hence the Single Judge had held that there was no locus standi for the appellants which was confirmed by the Division Bench.
The appellants had also heavily relied on Section 29 of the Hindu Succession Act (as they had contended that if not they, then the property should devolve on the State) which is as follows: -
29."Escheat: -Failure of heirs.
If an intestate has left no heir qualified to succeed to his or her property in accordance with the provisions of this Act, such property shall devolve on the Government; and the Government shall take the property subject to all the obligations and liabilities to which an heir would have been subject."
The Single Judge had held that “the Petitioners had not clearly stated about Class II heirs of Dr.J.Jayalalitha. They had usurped to themselves the rights to seek Letters of Administration. If it is the clear case that Dr.J. Jayalalitha had no legal heirs at all, then it is for the State to step in and it is not for two individuals (the appellants) to seek Letters of Administration. The entire position itself is misguided and the only silver lining is that just two persons have come forward to seek Letters of Administration.”
Hence, the Court rejecting the appeal upheld the order of the learned Single Judge who had rejected the petition filed by the appellants for grant of Letters of Administration on the ground that there was mala fide action on the part of the appellants and there was no locus standi on their part to seek for such relief.
In another petition before the Madras HC in 2018, Mr. J. Deepak had filed for Letters of Administration under Sections 218 and 278 of Indian Succession Act, 1925 in respect of the properties and credits of deceased J Jayalalithaa making his sister Ms. J. Deepa respondent. In that case, the Court had held that being nephew and niece and Class II legal heirs, they were entitled to grant of Letters of Administration in respect of the estate and credits of the late Chief Minister Dr. J. Jayalalithaa. The Court had also directed brother-sister duo to allot a few properties, according to their discretion and create a registered Public Trust in the name of their late aunt "Dr. J. Jayalalithaa" for the purpose of doing public and social service as per their affidavits filed before the Court within eight weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of the order.
In the present case, the Advocate General had informed the Court that the Government had already taken steps to acquire the residence of Late Chief Minister at No.36, Poes Garden, Chennai comprising of 10 grounds to make it as a “Memorial” and the said property was in the possession of the District Collector, Chennai.
In this regard, reminding the State of Tamil Nadu of its duties under the welfare state, the Court made the following interesting observations,
“It is stated across the Bar that the Poes Garden property of Late Chief Minister Dr.J Jayalalithaa is worth about more than Rs.100/- Crores. The Government as per law has to issue notice to the legal heirs and hear them during acquisition proceedings. The compensation payable for acquiring the properties has to be determined and the said amount has to be paid to the Legal Heir's in case of land acquisition. Instead of acquiring the said property, and paying heavy compensation, the said amount could be utilized for developmental purposes such as building infrastructures, providing potable drinking water, cleaning of water bodies, etc., When there are so many essential amenities which are yet to be provided by the welfare state, public money cannot be wasted for the purpose of constructing memorials. The real tribute to any leader should be paid by following his/her principles and working for benefit of the people and development of the society.”
The Court noted that the Poes Garden property was used for more than 15 years by Dr.J Jayalalithaa as Chief Minister's Residence-cum-Office. The Court in this regard proceeded to suggest to the State Government to consider making the above property as “Official Residence-cum-Office of the Chief Minister of the State” instead of converting the property as a “memorial” as desired by the Government.
Interestingly the Court suo motu invoked Article 226 of the Constitution and Section 151 of Civil Procedure Code to pass following orders among the orders.
(a)The State Government shall consider and decide the suggestion of this Court to avoid making Poes Garden property “VEDA NILAYAM” as “memorial” by acquiring the property, as it would incur huge expenses to the public exchequer.
(b)The State Government shall consider the suggestion that Poes Garden property “VEDA NILAYAM” be made as “Official Residence-cum-Office of the ChiefMinister of the State”, after acquiring the property as per law, after issuing notice and hearing the second and third respondents viz., J.Deepa and J.Deepak.