SC upholds conviction of Saravana Bhavan founder

Chennai | Updated on March 29, 2019 Published on March 29, 2019

The Supreme Court today upheld the life imprisonment awarded by the Madras High Court to P Rajagopal, owner of the Hotel Saravana Bhavan (HSB) chain of restaurants, in the Prince Santhakumar murder case.

In 2009, the Madras High Court convicted Rajagopal of the murder. He appealed against the sentence in the Supreme Court, which granted him bail considering his health conditions.

However, today, a three-member bench of the apex court presided by Justices NV Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee dismissed Rajagopal’s appeal in the 18-year-old murder case and asked him to surrender by July 7.

The murder of Santhakumar in October 2001 created a sensation in Tamil Nadu with the involvement of the high-profile restaurateur, Rajagopal, who in 1981 brought a sea-change in the restaurant industry by introducing a clean and full view kitchen concept that became an instant hit among customers.

The history of the case dates back to 1999 when both Jeevajothi and Santhakumar (now deceased) got married. However, Rajagopal, who wanted to marry Jeevajothi, threatened the couple to annul the marriage. In 2001, the couple filed a police complaint against Rajagopal and his aides. A few days later, Santhakumar was kidnapped and killed. His body was found at Perumalmalai in Kodaikanal forests. The Madras High Court convicted Rajagopal under Section 302 of the IPC (punishment for murder) and sentenced him to undergo life imprisonment along with the five others. He challenged the verdict.

The Supreme Court, in 2009, granted him bail considering his health conditions.

All five appellants complicit

Hearing Rajagopal’s appeal, the apex court today said that the prosecution had proved the complicity of all the appellants (five) in murdering Santhakumar by strangulating him and thereafter throwing the dead body at Tiger Chola.

“While it is necessary that proof beyond reasonable doubt should be adduced in all criminal cases, it is not necessary that such proof should be perfect, and someone who is guilty cannot get away with impunity only because the truth may develop some infirmity when projected through human processes. The traditional dogmatic hyper-technical approach has to be replaced by a rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial. Justice cannot be made sterile by exaggerated adherence to the rule of proof, in as much as the benefit of doubt must always be reasonable and not fanciful,” the order said.

Having regard to the entire material on record and the totality of the facts and circumstances, “we find that the evidence on record fully proves the case of the prosecution and that the Trial Court as well as the High Court evaluated the material on record in its proper prospective while coming to their conclusion. Thus, the judgment of the Trial Court as modified by the High Court need not be interfered with. Hence, these appeals fail and stand dismissed,” the order said.

Published on March 29, 2019
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