The Madras High Court on Wednesday declared former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s nephew and niece as the legal heirs entitled to inherit all the properties left behind by her and asked the state government to reconsider its decision to convert her residence into a memorial, PTI reported.

The court made the observations while accepting a plea filed by Jayalalithaa’s nephew J Deepak and niece J Deepa. They sought letters of administration to take control of her properties.

This came days after Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit promulgated an ordinance to allow the state government to “temporarily” take over Jayalalithaa’s residence. The ordinance allows the state government to establish a foundation – Puratchi Thalaivi Dr J Jayalalithaa Memorial Foundation – to make long-term arrangements for conversion. The trust will be headed by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami.

Ruling that the government could not acquire Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden area of Chennai without the consent of the legal heirs, the court expressed its reservation over using public money to acquire private properties and convert them into memorials. Justices N Kirubakaran and Abdul Quddus suggested the bungalow be utilised as the residence of the chief minister of the state and convert a portion of it alone into a memorial.

Veda Nilayam served as the residence of Jayalalithaa for over 40 years. The house was purchased by the erstwhile chief minister and her mother in 1962 and is currently not occupied by anyone.

The Madras High Court further recorded the submission of Deepak and Deepa that they shall select a few properties at their discretion and use them for creating a public trust named after Jayalalithaa for welfare measures within eight weeks. The bench dismissed another plea moved by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader K Pugalenthi seeking to appoint him as administrator of the properties of the late chief minister.

In August 2017, Palaniswami had announced the government’s decision to acquire Veda Nilayam and turn it into a memorial. On May 6, the state government formally started the process of acquiring the residence. The Chennai collector issued a notification to acquire the property for “public purpose”. The project does not involve the displacement of any families or relocation, the notification added.

Jayalalithaa died in Chennai on December 5, 2016. The government is already working on a Rs 50-crore sprawling memorial for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader at the Marina Beach, where she was buried. Called the Phoenix, it is designed to resemble the mythical bird which supposedly represents the former chief minister’s “persona”. It includes a 15-metre tall monument, a museum and a “knowledge park”, surrounded by landscaped gardens with two roaring lions at the entrance.

In August last year, the Chennai district administration in its report had said that the government’s decision to convert the residence into a memorial was “most appropriate”.