The Madras high court on Wednesday set aside the proceedings of the Tamil Nadu revenue department locking and sealing the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam headquarters in Chennai following the July 11 violence, and directed that the keys of the office be handed over to party chief K Palaniswami (EPS), a ruling seen as a shot in the arm for the former chief minister.
Justice N Sathish Kumar quashed the proceedings, while passing orders on the criminal original petitions from Palaniswami, the party's interim general secretary and ousted leader O Panneerselvam (OPS).
The judge directed the revenue divisional officer/executive magistrate to remove the seal and hand over the keys to Palaniswami immediately and asked the Royapettah police to provide adequate protection to the office, round the clock, located on Avvai Shanmugam Salai.
No party cadres shall be allowed inside the office for one month to avoid any untoward incident, the judge added.
The court dismissed Panneerselvam's plea for granting possession of the party headquarters, 'MGR Maaligai’, to him.
The RDO had sealed the premises following violent clashes that broke out between supporters of Palaniswami and Panneerselvam on July 11, when a meeting of the AIADMK general council, its highest decision-making body, picked the former as its interim general secretary, squeezing out OPS, whom it 'expelled' from the organisation.
In his 61-page judgment, the judge cited a similar incident that occurred in 1988 involving the late Janaki, wife of AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran, in respect of the subject property, before the court. And it had held that even three days prior, Janaki had been in possession of the premises, the judge pointed out and applied the same theory in his present order.
OPS, having attempted to stall the general council meetings, created a warlike situation as a last resort on July 11. Any person said to have been expelled from primary membership cannot claim an absolute right to treat it as a dispute with regard to the property of the political party which does not belong to any of the individuals.
He cannot create a war-like situation by breaking open the doors of the building which was kept under lock and key by the other side. Such an act is nothing but mere trespass, the judge said.
The impugned order under Sec 145 CrPC does not even speak about who was in actual possession on the day of the order, whereas it was based on the main opinion that there was a likelihood of (violence) spreading over the issue to various parts of the state.
Similarly, the order under attachment passed under Sec 146(1) CrPC, must be reflected in the order that after enquiry the RDO was of the opinion that none of the parties was in actual possession of the subject of dispute at the time of passing of the order or was unable to decide which of the parties was in such possession.
It was also relevant to note that the RDO passed the order under sections 145 and 146(1) CrPC mainly based on the FIR registered by the local police. In her proceedings which were also produced before the court, she had reiterated that only the FIR was produced. Whereas in the status report, the police took the stand that apart from a copy of the FIR, a special report was also sent to the RDO. But her proceedings were totally silent about the report sent by the the police.
Whereas she had passed both the orders mainly on the basis of the FIR, she did not even say that she perused the copy of or the original FIR.
"These facts clearly show that there is clear non-application of mind on the part of the RDO. Further, there is no whisper about the report sent by the police. It is relevant to note that the status report filed by the police itself indicates that there was a complaint given by ex-minister D Jayakumar dated June 26 that anti-social elements were trying to enter AIADMK headquarters and also the general council meeting to be held on July 11 (elsewhere).
"From July 5 to 11 no untoward incident was reported. This itself clearly indicates that the 'B' party (OPS) was not in control and possession of the property. On the other hand, the status report of the police itself indicates that only 'A' party (Palaniswami) is in control of the party office,” the judge noted.
The mechanical order attaching the property of the headquarters of the prime opposition party of Tamil Nadu will strike at the very democratic process and will amount to oppression, the judge observed.
The letter dated July 8 addressed to the police by Jayakumar and the status report of the police itself indicate Palaniswami was in control of the office. This fact was not reflected in the order of the RDO. Therefore, to initiate the proceedings under Sec 145 CrPC, there must be a real dispute in respect of the land or immovable property. The term dispute means there must be a reasonable dispute, bona fide one between the parties.
"Therefore, by creating a dispute on the date of the proceedings by creating a war-like situation, it cannot be said that there is an actual dispute existing in respect of the party office. In such a view of the matter the orders impugned under Section 145 and 146(1) CrPC passed by the RDO stand quashed," the judge said and directed her to hand over the possession of the building to Palaniswami immediately.
Meanwhile, Palaniswami’s supporters welcomed the court order by distributing sweets and bursting crackers.