Jayaram Jayalalithaa returned as chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the fifth time on Sunday, but media reports have pointed out the mathematical errors in the Karnataka High Court order that acquitted her two weeks ago. The judge reportedly increased Jayalalithaa’s income and reduced her unaccounted assets, thereby showing a lower percentage of disproportionate assets – this was the basis for acquitting the AIADMK leader of corruption.
Jayalalithaa was forced to resign as chief minister last September after being convicted of holding Rs. 53 crore ($8.3 million) in unaccounted cash and property. But after the 67-year old appealed the verdict in the High Court, the judge has ruled in her favour.
As Kuldip Nayar points out in the Daily Star, the judgment stated that Rs. 13.50 crore had been added by mistake to Jayalalithaa’s total income of Rs. 34.76 crore. Even if we accepted this, her income would then be Rs. 21.26 crore. Her total assets are Rs. 37.59 crore as accepted by the judge – a difference of Rs. 16.32 crore, or 76 percent above Jayalalithaa’s known income.
But the judge surprisingly stated that the difference came to only Rs. 2.82 crore, which is 8.12 percent above her income. And since a Supreme Court order of 1977 said a jump of 10-20 percent was permissible, these maths errors were enough to ensure that Jayalalithaa walked free.
Even the Rs. 13.50 crore that was mistakenly reduced in her income was the result of an error. According to NDTV, the judgement brought down Jayalalithaa's unaccounted assets by almost a third by fixing an absurdly low rate of construction for her different properties.
The judgement fixed a flat rate of Rs. 250 per square foot – this low rate would make the total cost of these properties drop from Rs. 27 crores to only Rs. 5 crores. This one calculation alone helped bring down Jayalalithaa’s unaccounted wealth from Rs. 66 crores to Rs. 37 crores.
But what made the judge decide on this rate of Rs. 250? The answer is buried in page 786 of the 1000-page judgement: the figure is derived from a quote given by the Public Works Department (PWD) for the average cost of construction for a sentry shed in Chennai!
The PWD had in fact submitted a cost of Rs. 310 per square foot, which the judgement further reduces to Rs. 250 per square foot, applying that rate to all the properties owned by Jayalalithaa and Sasikala.
These range from farmhouses, bungalows, apartments and factories scattered across Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and in Hyderabad – all costing Rs. 250 per square foot on paper, thanks to a convenient judgement.
Special Public Prosecutor BV Acharya told NDTV that this calculation had no basis.
"How can rate of sentry shed be applied to all these properties?" he asked. He said the calculations for the rate of construction by the investigative agency were done building to building, arriving at the figure of Rs. 27 crore.
Given these glaring errors in the judge’s order, Karnataka's Advocate General has recommended that the state should appeal in the Supreme Court against Jayalalithaa's acquittal.
For the moment though, Jayalalithaa is back in office, distributing largesse. She has already announced welfare schemes of Rs. 1,800 crore ($283 million) to mark her return.