More than three decades after official brutality at Vachathi in Dharmapuri district shook the State, Justice P. Velmurugan of the Madras High Court has now decided to visit the tribal hamlet on March 4 before delivering his verdict on criminal appeals pending since 2011 against the punishment imposed on 215 convicts.
The judge reserved judgement on the appeals preferred by 126 forest personnel, 84 police personnel and five revenue officials and told the counsel representing the appellants as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had prosecuted the case on court orders, that he would be visiting Vachathi on March 4.
It was on June 20, 1992 that a larger team of 269 government servants had raided Vachathi on information regarding illegal felling and smuggling of sandalwood trees worth a few crore rupees. During the raid, 18 women were raped, men were beaten up black and blue, their properties were looted and many women and children were detained illegally.
The issue came to light only after the Communist Party of India (Marxist) began fighting for the cause of the victims. The party filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court in 1992 and obtained an order in 1995 transferring the probe to the CBI, which laid a charge sheet against as many as 269 government servants in 1996.
The Principal Sessions Court in Dharmapuri heard the case for nearly 14 years and found all 215 surviving accused guilty of varied charges. The verdict was pronounced on September 29, 2011 and the convicts, including four Indian Forest Service officers, were imposed with punishment ranging from one to 10 years of imprisonment.