Saravana Bhavan owner fails to surrender in 2001 murder case, seeks extension

Janardhan Koushik
P Rajagopal and his accomplices were found guilty for the abduction and killing of a man named Prince Santhakumar in 2001.

P Rajagopal, the owner of Saravana Bhavan, the popular South Indian vegetarian hotel chain, failed to surrender on Sunday citing health reasons. However, Rajagopal’s accomplices, including Daniel, Karmegam, Zakir Hussain, Kasi Viswanathan and Patturajan, surrendered before the fourth additional session court in Chennai.

In March, the Supreme Court upheld the life sentence awarded to P Rajagopal, 72 and eight others for the murder 18 years ago of his employee, Prince Santhakumar, whose wife he had wanted to marry.

The SC had given Rajagopal time till July 7 to surrender. A few days earlier, Rajagopal got admitted into a private hospital citing ill health. He filed a petition in the apex court seeking an extension of the deadline to surrender. The hearing has been postponed to Tuesday.

The case dates back to 2001 when Rajagopal was accused of threatening, abducting and murdering Santhakumar, so he could marry his wife Jeevajothi. Apparently, astrologers had asked Rajagopal to marry Jeevajyothi to attain more wealth. At the time, Rajagopal already had two wives his second marriage was to a woman who was the wife of a former employee.

The couple even filed a complaint at a local police station saying they were intimidated by the Rajagopal s gang. On October 26, 2001, Shanthakumar was kidnapped by Rajagopal’s men from Chennai and was murdered in Kodaikanal on the same day. The Forest Department found Shanthakumar s body in Tiger Chola Forests. A charge sheet was filed under Section 302(murder), 364(abduction) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the IPC.

In 2004, a special court found the hotelier guilty and awarded him 10-years of rigorous imprisonment. The Saravana Bhavan owner challenged the special court s decision and the prosecution sought enhancement of the punishment. In 2009, the Madras High Court enhanced the punishment of Rajagopal to life imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 55 lakh, including Rs 50 lakh as compensation to Jeevajyothi.

On March 29, 2019, dismissing appeals against the 2009 verdict of the Madras High Court, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee ruled: 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 (in Kodaikanal).