The Sattankulam custodial deaths of father-son duo P. Jeyaraj and J. Benicks could have been probed without the need for CBI’s interference if only the State government had complied with a 2006 Supreme Court directive in letter and spirit and constituted a State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA) headed by a retired High Court judge, say activists.
Senthil Arumugam of Satta Panchayat Iyakkam points out that the Supreme Court, in the Prakash Singh versus Union of India case had on September 22, 2016, had directed all State governments in the country to constitute SPCAs within three months to probe into allegations of serious misconduct such as deaths, grievous hurt or rape in police custody.
The court made it clear that the SPCAs should be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court or High Court and that he/she could be selected from among a panel of names proposed by the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned. However, no such norms were followed in Tamil Nadu and a SPCA had been constituted under the chairmanship of Home Secretary, he said.
Activist advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam said that no one was aware of the constitution of an SPCA in Tamil Nadu until he filed a public interest litigation petition in the Madras High Court in November 2019. “Only when my case was listed for admission before a Bench led by Justice M. Sathyanarayanan, a Government Order (G.O.) issued on November 14, 2019 was produced.
“The G.O. issued by the Home (Pol- VIII) department stated that a SPCA had been constituted with Home Secretary as its chairperson and Director General of Police as well as Additional General of Police (Law and Order) as its members. Shocked to read it, I insisted on appointing a retired High Court judge. The case is still pending for the government to respond,” he pointed out.
His counsel M.L. Ravi of Desiya Makkal Sakthi Katchi, said Kerala had constituted a SPCA headed by its former High Court judge V.K. Mohanan and it had also decided to appoint an independent investigation officer, from among top police officers who had never served in Kerala, to assist the authority in probing into complaints of police brutality.
“Even Puducherry has constituted a Police Complaints Authority chaired by former Madras High Court judge G. Rajasuria. I don’t understand why the Tamil Nadu government has been hesitating to follow suit despite a specific Supreme Court direction issued way back in November 2016. Only an independent authority will help gain people’s confidence,” he said.
He went on to state that the Supreme Court had further ordered for the constitution of district-level police complaints authorities headed by retired district judges to probe into complaints of extortion, land/house grabbing and such other abuse of authority. However, in Tamil Nadu, even these authorities had been constituted under the chairmanship of Collectors, he lamented.