Madras HC paves way for murder charge in custodial deaths
There is prima-facie grounds to book policemen at the Sathankulam police station for the murder of P Jayaraj and J Bennicks, the Madras high court observed on Tuesday after reading preliminary post-mortem reports and a report by the local judicial magistrate, which said the father-son duo was thrashed through the night with lathis.
The court also handed over the probe to the state’s criminal investigation department (CB-CID), fearing that evidence may disappear by the time the Central Bureau of Investigation took over the case. On Monday, the state formally asked the CBI to take over the probe in the controversial case that sparked nationwide outrage.
The court stated that “the ante-mortem injuries found on the bodies of the deceased” and the magistrate’s report are prima facie enough to alter the case to Section 302 IPC against the Sathankulam police who were actively involved in the investigation of the case.
The court observed that there were chances of evidence tampering and appointed CB-CID deputy superintendent of police Anil Kumar to handle the case.
It said that the Sathankulam police “are taking advantage of the fact that the investigation of the case is in limbo and are attempting to cause disappearance of evidence. In fact, they were emboldened enough to even intimidate the judicial officer to put spokes in the wheel of his enquiry.”
It further suggested to the government to “revisit” the idea of entrusting the matter to the CBI, if it is satisfied that Kumar is proceeding on the right line.
“If we do not act now, it will become too late...” the bench said.
On Monday, the court had ordered the Thoothukudi collector to depute revenue officials to collect evidence at the police station.
Kovilpatti judicial magistrate M S Barathidasan’s four-page report to the court cited testimony indicative of torture, an attempted cover-up and an attempt to obfuscate the investigation. The report quoted an eyewitness, a head constable of the police station who wished to remain anonymous, who testified that both the father and son were beaten through the night, and the lathis used by the policemen, as well as the tables on which they were placed, had blood on them.
The court has directed the Thoothukudi district collector to ensure the safety of the eyewitness as well as her family members. It suggested she may be allowed to go on leave as “we fear that there will be attempt to intimidate her and make her resile from her version” given to the judicial magistrate.
Bennicks, 31, and Jayaraj, 59, died on June 22 and June 23 after undergoing hours of alleged torture at the Sathankulam police station on June 19. The First Information Report (FIR) filed by the police booked them under several sections, including Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 353 (use of force to deter public servant from duty). However, eyewitness accounts refute the claims in the FIR, stating that the duo was tortured severely by the policemen while in custody.
On June 24, the Madurai bench of Justices PM Prakash and B Pugalendhi took suo-motu cognisance of the case.
On Monday, the court initiated a contempt case against three officials of the police station: additional deputy superintendent of police D Kumar, deputy superintendent of police C Prathapan and constable Maharajan.
The Kovilpatti judicial magistrate accused the three of obstructing his investigation and making an abusive remark. On Tuesday, all three appeared before the bench with the constable saying he was “overstressed” and made the remark “by mistake”.
Last week, the Thoothukudi police had suspended the station inspector Sridhar, and two sub-inspectors P Raghuganesh and Balakrishnan in connection to the deaths.
On Tuesday, the Tamil Nadu government put Arun Balagopalan, the Thoothukudi superintendent of police, on compulsory wait [removed from active duty, but not suspended].
S Jeyakumar from Villupuram district will take over this position. Dr S Murugan, inspector general of police, economic offences wing in Chennai will be the new inspector general of police of south zone in Madurai as the incumbent retires Tuesday. Thoothukudi is under the south zone police jurisdiction in Tamil Nadu.
(with agency inputs)