Handed life term for employee’s murder, Saravana Bhavan founder P Rajagopal dies

Arun Janardhanan
Founder of popular South Indian food chain Saravana Bhavan P Rajagopal

Days after he surrendered to serve a life term for killing an employee in 2001, P Rajagopal (72), founder of restaurant chain Saravana Bhavan, died at a private hospital here on Thursday.

According to the prosecution, Rajagopal wanted to marry Jeevajothi, the wife of his employee, Prince Santhakumar, either on the advice of an astrologer or because he was besotted with the woman. He would provide financial help to the woman and her family, and give her costly gifts. After failing to convince Jeevajothi to leave her husband, he got Santhakumar abducted and murdered in October 2001.

In 2004, a lower court convicted Rajagopal and eight others, and sentenced him to 10 years in jail. But the Madras High Court enhanced his punishment to life term in 2009, following an appeal by the state government. Five others were handed life terms in the case, while three got three years in jail.

Rajagopal challenged his conviction in the Supreme Court, which, in March, upheld the life term. According to the Supreme Court s order, Rajagopal was supposed to surrender on July 7, but he sought further extension of his stay at a private hospital, citing medical grounds. The Supreme Court rejected his plea on July 9, and Rajagopal surrendered before a city court the same day.

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He was later admitted to Stanley Medical College as his health deteriorated. He was suffering from age-related problems besides cardiac ailments, hypertension and diabetes, said a doctor who confirmed his death on Thursday. On Tuesday, he was shifted to Vijaya Health Centre, a private facility, following a High Court order after his son filed an appeal.

Rajagopal, who earlier worked in a tea-shop and grocery store, opened his first restaurant at K K Nagar in Chennai in 1981. Since then, the Saravana Bhavan chain has expanded to cities across the country, and overseas.

Six years ago, Rajagopal penned his autobiography, I set my heart on victory, in which he wrote about how he ensured the welfare of his employees and even banned their late night outings, fearing it would affect their work the next day.