Enough material to book murder case against Sattankulam police: HC


After perusing the preliminary post-mortem report and the report of the Judicial Magistrate, Kovilpatti, in the ‘custodial’ death of traders P. Jayaraj and his son J. Benicks, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court on Tuesday observed that prima facie there was sufficient material to book a case against the Sattankulam police under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code.

Taking cognisance of the fact that the policemen tried to scuttle judicial inquiry and the need to preserve evidence in the case, the court appointed Tirunelveli Deputy Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, Anil Kumar, as the investigating officer, till the case was taken over by the CBI. The Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, would monitor the investigation, the court said.

A Division Bench of Justices P. N. Prakash and B. Pugalendhi took cognisance of the fact that a woman police constable attached to the station had spilled the beans (about the custodial torture) and said the ante-mortem injuries found on the bodies of the deceased and the statement of the constable revealed that prima facie there was a case under Section 302 against the policemen.

The court said in the interest of justice, the statement of the constable should be recorded under Section 164 CrPC by a Judicial Magistrate other than that of Kovilpatti and Sattankulam. The Collector should ensure the safety of the woman and her family. She may be granted leave from duty as it was feared that there would be attempts to intimidate and make her withdraw the statement.

The judges said the CB-CID was asked to take over on account of the stalemate that happened in the investigation. With the CBI yet to take over the case, the policemen were trying to take advantage of the situation by attempting to erase evidence and intimidating the judicial officer to put a spoke in the the wheel of the inquiry. The vacuum had to be filled to ensure that precious evidence does not get dissipated, the Bench said.

“One may wonder as to why it took this long for this court to make the above observations. Public indignation cannot be the barometer for judicial orders. Public memory is short, but judicial orders, especially those of the High Court, which is a court of record, live forever. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, committed the blunder of condemning Jesus Christ to death based on public outcry in a sham trial that was held before dawn and thereafter washed his hands of with water. We cannot afford to emulate him. Hitherto, in the absence of credible material, we were handicapped and now that we have at hand some prima facie incriminatory materials, we decided to fill the gap via our above observations”, the court said.

The court further said: “We fervently hope that DSP Anil Kumar will have before his mind the tears flowing from the eyes of the family of the two deceased and take up the investigation in all earnestness to wipe their tears. He should bear in mind that we are closely monitoring the case.”

It was open for the government to revisit the idea of entrusting the matter with the CBI, if it was satisfied that the CB-CID was progressing on the right track.

During the course of the hearing in the suo motu criminal contempt initiated against Additional SP D. Kumar, DSP C. Prathapan and police constable Maharajan, the court was informed that the two senior police officers had been placed on wait-list, while the police constable had been suspended.

Additional Advocate General (AAG) K. Chellapandian informed the court that all 24 police personnel attached to the Satthankulam police station were transferred. The AAG contended that stress was the reason for their behaviour and they had tendered their apologies. Their behaviour was unacceptable, he added. The court directed a copy of the Magistrate’s report be served on the trio so that they can respond in four weeks. The case was adjourned till July 2.

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 11:05:49 AM |

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