The lane off Chennai’s popular Stella Maris College, leading to the swanky Poes Garden, is quiet. The few police outposts that once controlled the crowd have fallen silent with just one or two men in khakhi. Veda Nilayam, 36 Poes Garden, one of the most popular addresses in Chennai that stood as a silent spectator of Tamil Nadu’s politics for over three decades, has also fallen silent like the checkposts. The black iron gates remain closed, rendering the big white bungalow with the beautiful balcony nondescript.
Former chief minister Jayalalithaa’s chamber of secrets, which wielded an aura of power till September 2016, is now caught in a litany of woes. The posh bungalow has now turned into a subject of legal slugfest between her relatives and the ruling AIADMK government. The battle for the palatial bungalow, spread over 24,322 square feet, has turned murkier, with the government depositing Rs 67.9 crore in a city civil court on Friday. By depositing the amount, the Tamil Nadu government, led by AIADMK’s joint coordinator Edappadi K. Palaniswami, has moved in to take possession of the bungalow, by paying compensation to her legal heirs—Deepa Jayakumar and J. Deepak—and also the Income Tax department.
According to the land acquisition award pronounced by N. Lakshmi, Land Acquisition Officer (LAO)/ Revenue Divisional Officer South Chennai on July 22, “the government has accorded administrative sanction for the acquisition and conversion of Veda Nilayam residence along with the land as government memorial.” The 21-page land acquisition award, a copy of which is available with THE WEEK, delves in detail into the objections raised by Deepa and Deepak, the niece and nephew of Jayalalithaa, to convert her house into a memorial, and also the objections by the Income Tax department saying that Rs 36.87 crores tax is due from Jayalalithaa.
As per the detailed valuation report mentioned in the land acquisition award, the land in which the former CM’s 24,322 square feet residence is located is valued at Rs 29.33 crores at the rate of Rs 12,060 per square feet. The building value or the value of the structure is 2.73 crores and the tree value is Rs 11,000. As the land is situated in the urban limit, multiplier factor applicable works out to Rs 29.33 crores. The additional market value of the residence, calculated at the rate of 12 percent per annum on market value is Rs 3.76 crores and an amount equivalent to 100 per cent compensation amount stands at Rs 29.33 crores. Thus, the value is totalled to Rs 67.9 crores. “The claims are hereby referred to the Principal Judge, City Civil Court, Chennai, for proper adjudication under section 76 and 77(2) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 and entire compensation amount of Rs 67.90 crores is deposited. It is hereby ordered that the land vests in the government free from all encumbrances,” says the award.
“As far as the apportionment of the compensation, the award also says that the Income Tax department’s claim has to be settled first. The interested persons (referring to Deepa and Deepak), it says, “did not give any consent for appointment besides their individual claim for compensation was not furnished.” While Rs 36.9 crore will be paid to the Income Tax department, the remaining will be shared among Deepa and Deepak.
However, refuting the award, Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar, who has been declared as a class two legal heir along with her brother Deepak, said that, “the government just cannot take over the land and convert it into a memorial. The valuation is itself wrong.” Stating that she will proceed legally, she said this was the highest betrayal to Jayalalithaa by her own party men. “They just want votes. They are doing this just to ensure that AIADMK cadres vote for them. It is our traditional house, where every rite and ritual happened. It was where we grew up,” Deepa said. Incidentally, in a petition filed with the Madras High Court on July 9, Deepak had asked the court to direct the government to hand over the keys of the Poes garden residence to him.
But, the fight for the Poes Garden residence, which stands sentinel to the politics that unravelled in the state for over 30 decades, began in February 2017, days after Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala walked into the Prapana Aghrahara prison in Bengaluru. The first voice for converting it to a memorial came from Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, as a condition for merging his faction with the ruling AIADMK. But then, the memorial plan, which was lying silent for years, gathered momentum again after the news of Sasikala’s early release from the jail began coming in.
Sources in the AIADMK say that Palaniswami, who is trying hard to position himself as a strong leader like Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, doesn’t want Sasikala to walk into the Poes Garden residence once she is out of the prison (also because of the political implications). Apparently, Sasikala’s residence address was the same as that of Jayalalithaa. However, a bungalow just opposite to Veda Nilayam is all spruced up for Sasikala to walk in, once when she is out of the prison.
The Palaniswami government’s sudden love for Poes Garden and a memorial there also has political undertones, as a memorial in the name of Amma, at the time of elections, could help consolidate the AIADMK cadres who are split into various factions.