P Rajagopal, founder of popular south Indian food chain Saravana Bhavan, passed away at Vijaya hospital in Chennai’s Vadapalani on Thursday following a cardiac arrest. He was shifted to the private hospital from the state-run Stanley Medical College Hospital following a court direction on Tuesday.
Rajagopal was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of one of his employees and had surrendered last week after the Supreme Court rejected his plea seeking more time.
Appearing for Rajagopal in the apex court, Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal had said he was not keeping good health. But the bench of Justices N V Ramana, Mohan M Shantanagoudar and Ajay Rastogi refused to grant him relief.
“It is unfair of your client. Why did he not indicate about his ill health when the appeal was being heard,” observed Justice Ramana.
In March, the top court had upheld the life sentence awarded to Rajagopal, 72, and eight others for the murder of his employee, Prince Santhakumar, whose wife he had wanted to marry.
Dismissing appeals against the 2009 verdict of the Madras High Court, the Supreme Court had said, “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).”
The case dates back to 2001 when Rajagopal was accused of threatening, abducting and murdering Santhakumar so that he could marry his wife Jeevajothi.
According to the prosecution, Rajagopal used to financially help Jeevajothi and her family. He spoke to her over the phone, gifted her jewellery and sarees, and even paid her medical bills.
He apparently believed the words of an astrologer who said that marrying his employee’s daughter would bring him a fortune. But Jeevajothi, the daughter of Rajagopal’s former assistant manager Ramasamy, did not agree. In 1999, she married Shantakumar, a former tuition teacher who had joined the eatery chain.
When Rajagopal asked the couple to separate, the prosecution said, they resisted his advances. The two were even abducted by Rajagopal’s men after which the couple filed a case with the local police station on October 1, 2001.
Days later, Shanthakumar was abducted from Chennai and taken to Kodaikanal where he was murdered, according to the case records. His body was recovered from the Tiger Chola forests. Post-mortem report revealed he had been strangulated.
When the case hit the headlines, Rajagopal surrendered on November 23, 2001, and was released on bail. On July 15, 2003, he was in the dock again, for attempting to bribe Jeevajothi with Rs 6 lakh, intimidating her and assaulting her brother.
A trial court in Chennai had awarded him 10 years rigorous imprisonment after convicting him for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, apart from imposing a fine of Rs 55 lakh, including Rs 50 lakh as compensation to Jeevajothi.
In March 2009, a Division Bench of the High Court observed that the trial court had erred in not awarding sentences under Section 302 of the IPC (murder) to Rajagopal and others.