Friday, March 29, 2019

Saravana Bhavan founder gets life term for murder

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One of the most high-profile passion crime cases in recent years reached its logical end on Thursday, when the Madras high court sentenced the founder of the Saravana Bhavan chain of hotels, P Rajagopal, to life imprisonment.
Originally sentenced to 10 years' rigorous imprisonment by a sessions court, the disgraced hotelier and five of his henchmen will now serve a life term for the abduction and murder of Prince Santhakumar in 2001. Significantly, the court set aside the Rs 55 lakh fine imposed on Rajagopal, and instead asked him to pay a total of Rs 30,000.
In the 1990s, Rajagopal, under the advice of an astrologer who predicted a lifetime of riches, madly wooed Jeevajothi, daughter of a Saravana Bhavan employee. The hotel chain owner wanted Jeevajothi, barely 20 then, to become his third wife. But when he failed in his advances, he plotted the murder of the man she eventually married, Prince Santhakumar, a maths teacher.
Over the years, he tried to wean Jeevajothi from her husband but when that failed too, the hotelier directed his eight henchmen to abduct and murder Santhakumar in October 2001. Santhakumar's body was found in Kodaikanal.
Jeevajothi's police complaints and statements, besides other circumstantial evidence and the depositions of the henchmen, firmly linked Rajagopal to the murder, resulting in a 10-year imprisonment in April 2004.
While the hotelier and others challenged their conviction and sentence, state public prosecutor Raja Ilango sought enhancement of their sentence.
On Thursday, a specially constituted division bench comprising Justices Prafulla Kumar Misra and R Banumathi said there was strong motive, and previous efforts to get rid of Santhakumar by hook or by crook. It observed: ``The abduction of Santhakumar, followed by his unnatural death and discovery of the dead body, coupled with the Sphinx-like silence of the accused persons, constitutes a very strong and unsnappable chain of events, unerringly pointing towards all the accused persons.''
Rejecting defence arguments that there was an inordinate delay in Jeevajothi approaching the police, the court said she did make certain allegations relating to the conduct of her parents, more particularly her mother. Also, her father had worked under Rajagopal and had benefitted from the helpful attitude of his owner. 
``Under such circumstances, a girl aged about 21 years would be naturally hesitant to file complaint, making allegations not only against the benefactor, but also against her own parents,'' they said, adding that Rajagopal was also very rich and influential. ``Therefore, we do not think there was any unnecessary and undue delay.''
Faulting the trial court for having sentenced the accused for an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, the judges said that in the absence of two exceptions  sudden provocation and right to self defence a lesser sentence was not justifiable in this case. 
``Conviction under Section 304(I) of IPC is not appropriate, and once they are found guilty under Section 302, the sentence could be either death sentence or life imprisonment.'' Making it clear that life term would suffice as it did not rank among rarest of rare cases, the judges said, ``We do not find any justification in imposing a huge fine on Rajagopal.''

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