Sharing "people's doubts" over the circumstances leading to the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, a Madras high court judge on Thursday hinted he may order exhumation of her body on a plea seeking a high-level judicial probe into the "secrecy" preceding her demise.
The public should know what has happened, Justice S Vaidyanathan, heading a two-judge vacation bench, said, issuing notices to the Central Government, Prime Minister's office and the state government, among others.
His observations came when the bench, also comprising Justice V Parthiban, was hearing the PIL filed by an All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam worker P A Joseph seeking a probe by an inquiry commission or a fact-finding committee into the death of Jayalalithaa.
"After the demise, everybody has a right to question. I personally have a doubt. One day it was told that she is walking, another day you said that she will come out and suddenly what happened. Even with regard to the health of late Chief Minister MGR, video was released," Justice Vaidyanathan said.
Advocate General Muthukumaraswamy, however, contended there was "no mystery" behind the AIADMK supremo's death.
Justice Vaidyanathan, however, persisted in expressing his doubt over the circumstances leading to her passing away, saying, "Even relations were not allowed to see and they are also not before the court now. I personally find in case if I have doubt I may order exhumation of the body of deceased."
"What is that you say? Right to live is a fundamental right. Public should know what has happened," the judge asked the AG.
Turning to counsel J Madanagopala Rao, who appeared on behalf of the Centre, the Judge said, "You went there. You have not reported anything. You know everything. But not reported anything for the reasons best known to you. You kept quiet."
The judge was apparently referring to the visits by several Union ministers to Apollo Hospitals to inquire about Jayalalithaa's condition.
The bench said, "We also saw in newspapers that the chief minister was recovering, that she was eating, signing papers and even conducting meetings. And then suddenly she was dead."
The bench then recorded the acceptance of notice by the counsel for the Union Government on behalf of the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministries of Home, Law and Parliamentary Affairs and CBI, and posted the matter for further hearing on January 9. The AG accepted notice on behalf of the state government.
The bench also issued notice to the Apollo Hospitals returnable by January 9.
The PIL has sought a commission comprising retired Supreme Court judges or a fact-finding committee to look into the "questionable incidents", including Jayalalithaa's sudden hospitalisation, reported recovery and finally the cardiac arrest resulting in her death on December 5.
It listed the sequence of events since Jayalalithaa's admission to Apollo Hospitals in Chennai on September 22 and claimed that the "secrecy" preceding her death gave rise to "grave doubts" in the minds of the people.
AIADMK 'hurt' on high court observations
Hours after a Madras High Court judge raised questions over the circumstances leading to Jayalalithaa's death, the AIADMK said the matter will be dealt with legally.
"The judge can pose questions. We live in a democracy. However, words like he may order exhumation of the body have hurt the cadre. The matter is in court and it will be dealt with legally (by the state government)," AIADMK spokesperson CR Saraswathy said.
She said the party had fought hard to bring Jayalalithaa back to good health and wondered if it was possible to hush up matters such as the health condition of a top leader, especially when she was being treated not by one doctor but a panel of doctors.
"The panel included doctors from AIIMS Delhi, a foreign expert, Dr Richard, and even physiotherapists from Singapore," Saraswathy said when her party's reaction to the court's observations was sought.
Referring to the medical bulletins issued by Apollo Hospitals and the views expressed by specialists on the health of the departed leader, she wondered if it was possible to hush things up for 75 days.
Saraswathy also referred to the views expressed by Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu that though Jayalalithaa's health had picked up initially, she succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest.