Thoothukudi firing: Report calls for action against police, district officials
The commissions noted that two groups were to protest on 22 May to coincide with the 100th day of their protest against Sterlite expanding its operations
Chennai: Justice Aruna Jagadeesan committee’s report which was tabled in the Assembly on Tuesday contended that there has been an instance of lethargy and indifference from former chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami since he didn’t act on an information conveyed to him by the then Intelligence Officer K N Santhiyamurthy to diffuse the situation. The report concluded that there has been police excess which was unprovoked.
The committee was constituted to probe the cases and circumstances leading to the police opening fire on 22 May 2018 which resulted in the death of 13 anti-Sterlite protestors and injured hundreds in Thoothukudi.
The commissions noted that two groups were to protest on 22 May to coincide with the 100th day of their protest against Sterlite expanding its operations. One to picket in the office of the Collectorate and the other to protest with permission in the SAV school grounds. Tamil Nadu’s intelligence officer had gathered that if the fisherman didn’t go to sea due to the fishing ban period, it was most likely that they would involve themselves in the protest prompted and persuaded by the leftist organisations.
“He (Santhiyamurthy) would also depose that he met the then Chief Minister Thiru Edappadi K. Palaniswami at Salem and suggested to him that a dialogue could be opened with the Fisherman Associations through the Secretary, Fisheries Department in order to dissuade them from plunging into the protest,” the report stated. “The then Chief Minister would appear to have responded saying that he would do the needful. Unfortunately, the well meaning efforts of the Intelligence Chief did not yield any result in as much as no follow up action was taken immediately thereafter to defuse the situation…It is quite baffling to note how a message with a potential for grave law and order situation remained unattended even though the relevant Intelligence had been promptly conveyed to the Chief Minister. It would appear to be a classic instance of indifference and lethargy, and had this grave issue been seriously attended to, it is quite likely that the issue would have been tackled effectively at the initial stage itself,” the report said.
The Commission has gone in depth into the days which led up to the firing and has pulled up several top officials. The Commission has recommended departmental action against the then district collector N Venkatesh whose style of functioning the report said is reminiscent of abdication of his responsibility. Action against 17 police officials have been recommended including Inspector general of police Shailesh Kumar Yadav, Deputy Inspector General Kapil Kumar C Karatkar, Superintendent of Police P Mahendran.
Action has been recommended against three special executive magistrates (meant to assist the police) for their lack of presence in their respective jurisdiction.
A specific case in point brought up by the Commission is that one of the special executive magistrate Rajkumar did not oblige the authorities to put forth the case that opening of fire was dictated by the special executive magistrate. So they chose an obliging special executive magistrate Sekar to enable them to give an impression that they resorted to firing only after compliance with relevant provisions of the Police Standing Orders. “He (Sekar) is included in the scene only to impart legality to an otherwise illegal act,” the commission said.
The protesters were unarmed and they indulged only in pelting stones at the police which was no threat to the life or limb of the policemen, the report said. There was a complete lack of coordination in the hierarchy of the police officials. The shooting at the instance of DIG Kapil Kumar C Saratkar and deputy superintendent of police Ungathirumaran was not in the knowledge of the Inspector general of police, the highest in the hierarchy, the report added. Shooting by sub-inspector Rennes, reportedly on the instruction of sub-inspector Thirumalai was also not to the knowledge of IG either. “Thus there is a spectacle of DIG disregarding even the presence of IG and arrogating himself the authority to issue directions for shooting,” the report stated.
“The conclusion then becomes irresistible that there had been excess on the part of the police,” the committee said. “The totality of the facts and circumstances would not suggest that the police had been acting in exercise of the right of private defence.”
It is not an instance of the police using appropriate force, the committee said, adding that the firing was unprovoked. “Here is a case of police indulging in shooting from their hideouts at the protesters who were far away from them,” the report said. There are materials in the shape of ballistic report that the shooting was long range shooting and not short range which is suggesting the fact that the police went into hiding in the heritage park inside the collectorate where from they have opened fire resulting in the casualties and grievous injuries to the protesters. Does it deserve a comment that is a dastardly act, the commission is left to wonder.”