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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 2, Dated January 15, 2011
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
KERALA

The father, the sons-in-law and the unholy properties

JEEMON JACOB & VK SHASHIKUMAR scoop documents to establish property amassed by former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan’s son-in-law, PV Sreenijan, a practising lawyer who recently resigned from the Kerala Congress

PHOTO: SHAILENDRA PANDEY

WHEN KG Balakrishnan was appointed Chief Justice of India in 2007, it was a great moment for a man of humble origins. But VR Krishna Iyer, former judge of the Supreme Court and national icon, now says, “I used to say that an era had begun when KG Balakrishnan became the first Dalit Chief Justice. Now, I don’t feel that way.”

Post retirement, Balakrishnan became head of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in June last year. Ever since, a rising crescendo of allegations of corruption have been heard, fuelled by the fact that his younger brother KG Bhaskaran and his two daughters and sons-in-law all acquired vast properties during his tenure as Chief Justice.

TEHELKA has accessed documents that show that between 2007 and 2010, son-in-law Puliyanaveettil Vasu Sreenijan purchased property worth Rs. 1.85 crore. The current real estate value of these properties is in excess of Rs. 25 crore.

This is a truly amazing story of wealth creation by a man who, while contesting elections from Kerala’s reserved Njarackkal Assembly constituency as a Congress candidate in 2006, had declared a bank balance of Rs. 25,000 apart from 24 g of gold.

A FAMILY
PRACTICE

Sreenijan is married to Balakrishnan’s elder daughter KB Sony, whom he met in college. He traces his background to a humble and hard-working family: his father was a factory worker in Premier Tyres, Kalamassery, and a Congress party worker. His classmates remember him as an introvert who had a muted, almost latent, ambition to become a powerful politician. From campus politics he moved to the Youth Congress and took active part in its programmes and activities.

Sreenijan became a practising lawyer in the Kerala High Court. When Balakrishnan started his three-year tenure as Chief Justice, Sreenijan started making huge investments in real estate and tourism. This sudden acquisition of wealth is currently being probed by the vigilance department after a probe was ordered by Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.

TEHELKA repeatedly tried to establish contact with Sreenijan for his version via SMS and phone, but all calls went unanswered.

After his marriage with Sony, Sreenijan’s political career also leapfrogged. He was appointed state vice-president of the Youth Congress. Though Congress leaders like MA Kuttappan (also a former minister) challenged Sreenijan’s rise, such protests were short-lived. He lost the 2006 elections but his wife purchased a flat and car parking space in Travancore Residency Towers for Rs. 6 lakh in 2007.

WITHIN A month, Sony again purchased another flat in Mather Square. The cost of the flat mentioned in the title deed is only Rs. 1.49 lakh, but the market price of flats in the vicinity was about Rs. 66 lakh at that time.

Today, Kerala Youth Congress leaders who were angry about Sreenijan’s political rise are gunning for him. “We demand a CBI inquiry to find out how Sreenijan acquired so much property and assets within the last three years,” said M Liju, former Youth Congress state president. On 5 January, Sreenijan tendered his resignation as Youth Congress vice-president.

Legal riches? Sreenijan’s wealth has multiplied since 2007

Legal riches? Sreenijan’s wealth has multiplied since 2007

In November 2008, Sreenijan purchased a river-front property of 277.52 cents in Kadukutti village in Thrissur district where he is now reportedly constructing a resort. According to the title deed, he purchased the land from Mohammed Iqbal Mather for Rs. 14 lakh. Villagers who prefer to remain anonymous say the market price was Rs. 1 lakh per cent. If that is the case he has allegedly shelled out Rs. 2.77 crore. And building the resort could put him back by more than Rs. 10 crore.

In 2009, Sreenijan purchased another property on Deshabhimani Road in Ernakulam for Rs. 30 lakh. Later, a property of 3.5 cents of land was purchased in his mother’s name (Sreemathy Vasu) adjacent to his plot.

But it is not only Sreenijan who became rich during Balakrishnan’s tenure as CJI. The second son-in-law, advocate MJ Benny, too, became wealthier after his marriage to Rani, Balakrishnan’s younger daughter.

Born to a working-class Christian couple in Nettur, Ernakulam, Benny married Rani in 2006. Benny and Rani, both lawyers, fell in love in the court.

Benny’s assets piled up in a manner similar to Sreenijan’s. Between 19 March 2008 and 26 March 2010, he purchased 98.5 cents of land through five title deeds for Rs.81.5 lakh. This is prime land along the National Highway in Marad, Ernakulam district. A cursory comparison of land rates during this period shows that the property was undervalued.

When Benny purchased the property it was around Rs. 4 lakh per cent and at current rates would be Rs. 10 lakh per cent. Yet Benny showed his yearly income as Rs. 5 lakh and Rs. 5.5 lakh during the assessment years 2008-09 and 2009-10. Just five land deals made Benny a millionaire in two years.

Rani also embarked on an investment spree, purchasing 10.5 acres in Athirampuzha with her relatives, including Abhilash T Chandran in 2007. Chandran is the son of Thangappan, one of Balakrishnan’s six brothers.

Then there’s KG Bhaskaran, younger brother of the former CJI, who is in the spotlight for possessing property beyond his known sources of income. A senior government pleader practising in the Kerala High Court, Bhaskaran reportedly purchased 50 acres of land in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu. In the light of allegations of having illegally amassed property he was asked to go on leave from 4 January by Kerala’s Advocate General CP Sudhakara Prasad. Bhaskaran, a former member of the CPM, contested Assembly elections as a party candidate from Vaikom in 1977.

Bhaskaran was a regular visitor to the Supreme Court during his elder brother’s tenure as the CJI. He is also reportedly close to Justice Paul Daniel Dinakaran (currently Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court and former Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court) against whom serious allegations have been levelled of land grab in Tamil Nadu.

No wonder, the Kerala Vigilance Department is now probing all the assets acquired by Balakrishnan’s family. Especially as the patriarch has not faded into the sunset and is now heading a body tasked with bringing justice to those whose human rights have been violated.


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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 2, Dated Jan 15, 2011
 

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