Judge admits appeal, orders notice

The Madras High Court on Tuesday suspended the sentence awarded to a 74-year-old retired Conservator of Forests and a Conservator of Forests, Chennai, by the Principal Sessions Judge, Dharmapuri, in the Vachathi case.

The case pertained to the atrocities committed by officials on the residents of Vachathi, a tribal hamlet in Dharmapuri district in June 1992.

Justice Aruna Jagadeesan admitted appeals from the two and ordered notice. She also ordered the suspension of the sentence against them. They should appear once in three months before the court concerned.

The retired and serving officials, M. Harikrishnan of Nandanam Extension here, who was cited as the first accused, and S. Balaji of Madurai, who figured as the fourth accused, were sentenced to three years' rigorous imprisonment by the Principal District and Sessions Judge, S. Kumaraguru, on September 29.

In the appeal filed through counsel L. Mahendran, the two said that the trial court had erred in convicting them under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act since they were not required to perform any duties under that legislation.

Mr. Harikrishnan said that the lower court erred in convicting him under section 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) IPC.

There was no material to show he caused disappearance of evidence of commission of the offence with the intention of screening the offender.

The sessions court ought to have seen that Mr. Balaji along with 40 others was camping at Harur from June 20, 1992 morning as they were planning a joint action to seize sandalwood and prevent smuggling. Mr. Balaji acted in his official capacity to do his lawful duty.None of the witnesses had implicated him as a member of an unlawful assembly and that he participated in the occurrence.

The two said they were directly selected for government service. They could not be prosecuted without the government's sanction. The investigating officer had admitted that no sanction had been obtained to prosecute them. Hence their conviction without proper sanction was vitiated.

After hearing V. Gopinath, senior counsel for the appellants, Mrs. Justice Aruna Jagadeesan suspended the sentence.