No police excesses at DMK rally: probe panel

Chennai, Oct. 31. Over a year after violence occurred at a DMK rally here, in which six persons were killed and mediapersons injured, the Justice Bhaktavatsalam Commission has said no police excesses were committed on the processionists. "The use of force by the police on the procession (on August 12) was the minimum required and justified," the Commission said, in its report tabled in the Assembly today.

However, it steered clear of the controversial terms of reference given by the AIADMK Government for suggesting norms and guidelines to be followed by mediapersons, who cover processions and demonstrations, to ensure their protection, including the safe distance to be maintained. "It is difficult to frame any guideline for such a situation and if any guideline is framed, the Press may think that its freedom is curbed".

But "it is better for the police to have a press conference before such rallies and processions" and decide on the modality of covering news. The media personnel should keep a reasonable distance so that they might not get injured in lathicharge or other police action. "It is too much on the part of the presspersons to think that nothing will happen to them or to their equipment, if they go into a surging crowd when police action is taken. Surely, they have to take a risk and go near the place, as during the rally on August 12."

The report described as "unfortunate" the media unions' decision not to file affidavits before the Commission, on the ground that they had filed a case in the Madras High Court.

Police plea `imaginary'

Justice Bhaktavatsalam, a former judge of the Madras and Karnataka High Courts, also dismissed the claim by police counsel that the rally was taken out by the DMK, to protest the mid-night arrest of its leader, M. Karunanidhi, only to "create a law and order problem" for the present Government so that the Centre might interfere and invoke Article 356. "This argument is highly imaginary. After the Supreme Court verdict in the Bommai case, it is not easy for the Centre to invoke its powers under Article 356 as it likes".

As for the causes and circumstances which led to the violence during the rally, the Commission said a section of the processionists, while passing through Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai, between 7 and 7.15 p.m., tried to "forcibly enter into the DGP's office complex and committed arson, setting fire to a vehicle parked inside. As it could have set the DGP's office complex itself afire, the police used water-cannons to disperse the mob. Finding the action "ineffective", the police, after a due warning, burst teargas shells. The "enraged" mob started entering the DGP office complex and caused bleeding injuries to police personnel with "aruval" and casurina sticks.

Almost simultaneously, four members of the procession scaled the northern compound of the office and set fire to three two-wheelers parked inside. Eight persons who attacked the police and set fire to police vehicles were apprehended.

"Observing that their colleagues were being apprehended by the police personnel, the rest of the members of the unlawful assembly were greatly enraged" and shouting that the DGP office should be set on fire, they surged towards the complex.

As the police lathicharge could not contain the mob, constable Sivakumar, after giving necessary warnings, opened, in all, seven rounds of fire, killing two processionists— Solai Perumal Murugesan and Selva Ramesh Kumar— and injuring another person, the report said.

The violent mob, on nearing Vivekanandar Illam, attempted to snatch a pistol from the Assistant Commissioner, Balasubramaniam, and attacked the Deputy Commissioner, Varadaraju. Therefore, to scare away the violent mob, Mr. Varadaruju fired one round from his pistol. As the crowd became more violent, another Assistant Commissioner, D. Kumar, ordered firing in which four persons were injured.

`Retaliation' from Ayodhiyakuppam

When the processionists proceeded towards Seerani Arangam on the Marina, some of them threw stones, "causing bleeding injuries" to spectators from Ayodhiyakuppam.

And therefore, "in order to retaliate", at about 9 p.m., after the meeting was over, some of the "Ayodhiyakuppam people" attacked the processionists, causing injuries to some of them, including A.P. Rangasamy, who died. "The death of Rangasamy is not the result of police action". His body was found near the G.U. Pope statue.

The firing resorted to by the police to disperse the mob was "justified".

Three persons belonging to Ayodhiyakuppam were arrested in connection with the killing of Rangasamy, Justice Bhaktavatsalam said.

The Government has accepted the Commission recommendations for payment of a compensation of Rs. 2 lakhs to the family of Selva Kumar, who died in the firing, and Rs. 25,000 to Jayaraj, who suffered bullet injuries.

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