The death of Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa has led to intense speculation about who will inherit her considerable assets, including the landmark Poes Garden mansion and over 21 kg gold
Shivani Chaturvedi | December 14, 2016 | Chennai
In death as in life, Tamil Nadu’s enigmatic chief minister J Jayalalithaa retained her mystique. When she fell dangerously ill, people did not know – and were not told – what she was suffering from. When she was buried, people wondered why a woman who was a brahmin by birth was interred. Now, people are asking a multi-crore question: Who will inherit the properties of a woman who did not have any family member at her side when she breathed her last on December 5.
Her rise from being a filmstar to a hugely successful politician, serving five terms as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, had been meteoric. Along the way, she earned pretty well and went on to acquire quite a few residential as well as commercial properties. She also owned a staggering 21 kg of gold and 1,250 kg of silver.
According to the affidavit submitted by Jayalalithaa in her nomination paper for the 2016 assembly election from the RK Nagar constituency in Chennai, the total value of her assets was Rs 113.73 crore. She had movable assets worth Rs 41.63 crore and her immovable properties were valued at Rs 72.09 crore.
The big question is whether she left behind a will. If she has, then it is not yet out in the public domain. And if there is no will, then the road ahead is likely to be dotted with legal potholes. The possible claimants are her confidante Sasikala Natarajan and niece Deepa and nephew Deepak, who are the children of Jayalalithaa’s late brother, J Jayakumar.
Jayalalithaa had strained ties with her brother and his family since the grand wedding of her foster son VN Sudhakaran in September 1995. The last time Deepa met her aunt was at a film function in 2002. Things had reached such a pass that Deepa was denied entry to Apollo hospital, where Jayalalithaa was undergoing treatment.
Jayalalithaa, her aide Sasikala, and Sasikala’s relatives Sudhakaran and Elavarasi, were accused of allegedly amassing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 66.65 crore during her first term as chief minister from 1991 to 1996. The disproportionate assets case had led to a long legal battle and she had ended up spending time in jail.
It is still unclear whether Jayalalithaa left behind a will. There are rumours that she had written one, but it could not be verified..
NGR Prasad, a senior advocate at the Madras High Court, says, “There is talk that Jayalalithaa wrote the will while she was in the hospital and that Sheela Balakrishnan (former chief secretary and currently advisor to the Tamil Nadu government) knows about it.”
When this correspondent tried to speak to Balakrishnan, her personal assistant said: “She retired as chief secretary. She doesn’t meet anyone.”
Prasad adds, “It is just hearsay that she has written a will and that the Poes Garden house is in favour of Sasikala. As it is a self-acquired property, she can dispose of the property in a manner she wants. If she has written a will, it needs to be probated.”
Section 213 of the Indian Succession Act says that probate of will is necessary in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata. Unless the will is probated, it is of no value. If somebody contests it, the will would be converted into testamentary original suit. And then it would be decided whether the will is valid or not. If the will is genuine, probate would be granted. Based on probating of the will, the property would be disposed of, explained Prasad.
Sivasankar, another advocate at the Madras High Court, says, “If she had written a will, the assets would be distributed as per the will. In the absence of a will, Jayalalithaa’s nephew and niece can stake a claim, being class II heirs of Jayalalithaa.”
The Madras High Court has appointed justice (retd) D Hariparanthaman to administer the properties of Jayalalithaa’s mentor, AIADMK founder and late chief minister MG Ramachandran (MGR), ending a 29-year-old battle over his will. Justice Hariparanthaman too said that if the will is written and applies to self-acquired property, it will operate. Also, if there are no class I heirs, the property goes to class II heirs.
Even her party, the AIADMK, is not clearing the air. It had acted in haste to appoint her political heir, swearing in O Panneerselvam as chief minister at midnight. But it’s not offering any clue as to who might inherit her considerable assets or to what use they might be put.
An AIADMK functionary said Sasikala and her family would possibly inherit Jayalalithaa’s property.
Sources quoted by the Telegraph newspaper said that Jayalalithaa had drawn up a will two years ago. The Poes Garden house apparently goes to Sasikala. The Kodanad estate in the Nilgiris, Jaya Publications, Sasi Enterprises and the other businesses in which the two friends were partners will also go to the surviving partner.
As she was a leader with a mass following, there’s no telling what could be demanded. Already, there’s a petition that the Poes Garden mansion should be converted into a memorial. The last has certainly not been heard on this.
(The article appears in December 16-31, 2016 issue of Governance Now)
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