Thoothukudi police firing was unprovoked, action should be taken against Collector too: Aruna Jagadeesan Commission

The Commission concludes that lack of coordination among officers, and the commissions and omissions were not in line with the protocol

October 19, 2022 12:38 am | Updated October 25, 2022 01:05 pm IST - CHENNAI

Police personnel firing at anti-Sterlite protesters in front of Thoothukudi Collectorate on May 22, 2018. File

Police personnel firing at anti-Sterlite protesters in front of Thoothukudi Collectorate on May 22, 2018. File | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Commission’s report on the Thoothukudi police firing, which claimed 13 lives in May 2018, faulted senior police officers on several counts.

Though there was no intelligence failure, lack of coordination among officers and the commissions and omissions not in line with the protocol led to the firing, which was unprovoked, said the report, which was tabled in the Assembly on Tuesday.

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In its four-volume report, the Commission, which analysed evidence, statements and other documents during its inquiry, said, “There had been excesses on the part of the police. The totality of the facts and circumstances would not suggest that the police had been acting in exercise of right of private defence. As a matter of fact, it is not even the version of police.”

It named 17 police officers, who were jointly and severally accountable. Among them are IPS officers Shailesh Kumar Yadav and Kapil Kumar C. Saratkar (then Inspector-General and Deputy Inspector-General respectively); the then Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police, P. Mahendran; DYSP Lingathirumaran; and inspectors Thirumalai, Hariharan and Parthiban.

It also named sub-inspectors Sornamani and Rennes; Grade-II constables Raja and Thandavamurthy; Grade-I constables Shankar, Sudalaikannu, Satheesh Kumar and M. Kannan; head constable A. Raja; and constable Mathivanan.

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“The Commission suggests that action be taken against the aforesaid police officers for their acts of commission and omission departmentally without prejudice to launching criminal action,” it said.

Though there was no intelligence failure, the intelligence input was not given the importance it deserved. “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 to defuse the situation.”

The Commission also suggested that requisite departmental action be taken against the then Thoothukudi Collector, N. Venkatesh, having regard to its observations about “his style of functioning reminiscent of abdication of his responsibility.” It also suggested action against Deputy Tahsilar (Elections) Sekar, Divisional Excise Officer Chandran and Zonal Deputy Tahsildar Kannan — all of whom were posted in Thoothukudi then.

Also Read | Thoothukudi police firing: Commission faults police, Collector

The police had the opportunity of dissuading the protesters from proceeding towards the Collectorate, but, by their ineffective handling, they floundered at every vulnerable point, the Commission said.

“There had been a demonstrable failure on the part of the police higher-ups to organise the police personnel properly and to issue commands effectively so that in a tumultuous situation the commands were duly conveyed, promptly received and dedicatedly carried out.” The lack of co-ordination between the top-ranking police officers inter se led to lack of preparedness to meet any eventuality.

“The shooting was unprovoked in as much as the harm that was sought to be averted was not more than the harm that would have been inflicted by not resorting to shooting.”

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There might have been some circumstances even justifying the use of firearm, but by avoiding its use, will a greater harm be occasioned is the decisive question. The answer is, of the two evils, the lesser evil is to be preferred, and in the instant case, the lesser evil is avoiding the use of firearm, the Commission said.

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