'Besotted' Saravana Bhavan owner wanted to marry employee's wife who he got killed

PTI New Delhi, Delhi, India Mar 30, 2019, 04.40 PM(IST)

P Rajagopal, founder of South Indian restaurant chain 'Saravana Bhavan'. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

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The top court lent credence to the testimony of the wife of the deceased and termed her version as "overwhelming, consistent, cogent and reliable" and said that her testimony can be corroborated with the statements of others.

P Rajagopal, founder of South Indian restaurant chain 'Sarvana Bhavan', was Friday awarded life imprisonment by the Supreme Court for abducting and killing the woman's husband in 2001.

Either on the "advice of an astrologer" or "having become besotted with" the wife of his employee Santhakumar, Rajagopal initially attempted to make her his third wife and after failing in his endeavour, plotted abduction and murder of her husband, the top court noted its judgement.

A bench of Justices NV Ramana, M M Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerji dismissed as many as nine appeals of nine convicts including Rajagopal and upheld the Madras High Court verdict awarding life term to them.

The High Court had in 2009 enhanced to life term the 10-year imprisonment awarded by a local court to Rajagopal and eight others in the murder case.

"In our considered opinion, the prosecution has proved the complicity of all the appellants in murdering Santhakumar by strangulating him and thereafter throwing the dead body at Tiger Chola," the top court said in its verdict.

"Having regard to the entire material on record and the totality of 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 perspective 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," said Justice Shantanagoudar, who wrote the verdict.

The top court lent credence to the testimony of the wife of the deceased and termed her version as "overwhelming, consistent, cogent and reliable" and said that her testimony can be corroborated with the statements of others.

"We reiterate that PWs 1 (wife)...Steadfast in their testimony about the motive, the last seen circumstance, recovery of the dead body based on the confession of Accused No.2, and about the identification of the dead body. We do not find any embellishment or exaggeration in the evidence of these witnesses," it said.

The court did not consider minor discrepancies and lack of DNA test to identify the dead body as fatal to the case.

"It is worth recalling that 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," it said.

The traditional dogmatic "hyper-technical approach" has to be replaced by a "rational, realistic and genuine approach for administering justice in a criminal trial", it said, adding that "justice cannot be made sterile by exaggerated adherence to the rule of proof, inasmuch as the benefit of doubt must always be reasonable and not fanciful."

The judgement noted that either upon the advice of an astrologer or "having become besotted" with the wife of the employee, the key accused had evinced a keen desire to marry her.

In order to fulfil his desire, Rajagopal used to financially help the woman, her family members and her husband, it said, adding that the key accused used to talk to the woman on phone frequently and also gave her costly gifts.

On October 1, 2001, the key accused got the woman and her husband abducted. The accused first persuaded and then threatened them to separate so that he can re-marry her.

A separate proceeding was on in the abduction case.

A few days later, the victim was again abducted and then killed.

The body was later exhumed at the instance of one of the accused and the post mortem was conducted and the report suggested that he was strangulated. 

"In our considered view, the recovery of the body of the deceased at the instance of Accused No. 2 and the identification of the body as that of Santhakumar by PW1, her family as well as by the accused, on the basis of photographs, the clothes and belongings of the deceased, and his scar, stand proved beyond all reasonable doubt," the apex court said.

The apex court asked the convicts including Rajagopal to surrender by July 7 to serve the jail terms. 

The Saravana Bhavan group has over 20 outlets in South India, many others in the north and overseas.