Taking note of the ante-mortem injuries found on the bodies of Jayaraj and Bennix, coupled with the averments in the report of the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti, especially the statement of Revathy, Head Constable, Sathankulam Police Station, who spilled the beans on the delinquent police personnel, the Madras High Court on Tuesday expressed the view that this "would be prima facie enough to alter the case to one under Section 302 IPC against the Sathankulam policemen who were actively involved in the investigation of the case (against the father-son duo)".
The Court observed that the Sathankulam police was trying to destroy the evidence related to custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix, and ordered the Deputy Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, Tamil Nadu Police to take charge of the probe.
"The Sathankulam police are taking advantage of the fact that the investigation of the case is in limbo and are attempting to cause disappearance of evidence", observed a bench comprising Justices P N Prakash and B Pugalendhi.
The division bench expressed its shock that "In fact, they(police) were emboldened enough to even intimidate the judicial officer to put spokes in the wheel of his enquiry".
The Court action was based on the report by the Judicial Magistrate, Kovilpatti who is conducting the enquiry under Section 176(1)(1-A) Cr.P.C against Thoothukudi ASP D Kumar, DySP C Prathapan and police constable Mahajan. The delinquent officials were ordered to be present in Court on Tuesday, following a suo moto contempt action.
In this regard, the court deemed it to be in the interests of justice to have the statement of Revathy, Head Constable, recorded under Section 164 Cr.P.C. by a Judicial Magistrate, other than the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti and Judicial Magistrate, Sathankualm. Meanwhile, the District Collector, Tuticorin, is directed to immediately ensure the safety of Revathy and her family members- "She may even be granted leave from duty as we fear that there will be attempt to intimidate her and make her resile from her version given to the Judicial Magistrate No.I, Kovilpatti".
The HC, Madurai Bench on Monday initiated suo moto contempt proceedings against three police officers for obstructing the HC-ordered inquiry by Judicial Magistrate into the horrific custodial deaths of Jayaraj and Bennix in Sathankulam town in Tamil Nadu.
"In the said report, the learned Judicial Magistrate No.I, Kovilpatti, has stated that he has recorded the statement of Revathy, Head Constable, attached to Sathankulam Police Station, who, spilled the beans. The report also disclosed the concerted efforts of the Sathankulam policemen, including D. Kumar, Addl. Superintendent of Police, Tuticorin, C. Prathapan, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sathankulam Sub Division and Maharajan, (PC 1744) attached to Sathankulam Police Station, to scuttle the enquiry", the bench noted.
In the circumstances of the case, the bench appointed one Mr. Anil Kumar, who is presently the Deputy Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, Tirunelveli, and who was previously in the Special Branch, C.I.D., as the Investigating Officer. The Court ordered that he shall forthwith take charge of the investigation in the case and proceed further without waiting for any formal order from the Director General of Police, Chennai, and that the Superintendent of Police, CB-CID, Tirunelveli, shall monitor the investigation. "We fervently hope that Mr. Anil Kumar, D.S.P., will have before his mind's eye, the river of tears flowing from the eyes of the family of the two deceased and take up the investigation of the case in all earnestness for wiping their tears", the bench expressed its hope, adding that "He should also bear in mind that we are closely monitoring the case".
Taking note of the "sordid turn of events", as evidenced in the report of the Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti and the preliminary post-mortem reports, the bench required the relevant case diaries to be immediately handed over to the IO so appointed, besides requiring the Judicial Magistrate No.I, Kovilpatti, on completion of his enquiry,to furnish the original report also to him.
The Court observed that in a case of physical violence, alacrity in investigation is the need of the hour. "We are aware of the legal position that in the name of monitoring the case, we have no authority to direct the manner in which the investigation should be carried on. However, on account of the stalemate that has occasioned in the investigation due to the request made by the State Government for C.B.I. investigation, we are constrained to step in and fill up the vacuum in order to ensure that precious evidence does not get dissipated", observed the bench.
The bench was of the view that if they do not act now, it will become too late, for, the consent of the State Government should be accepted by the Central Government and only thereafter, can the C.B.I take up the case on its file. Further, it was alive to the facts that "The C.B.I. does not have an office in Tuticorin or Tirunelveli but only at Madurai, that The C.B.I. is essentially an organisation equipped to deal effectively with corruption and white- collar offences, that In the present lock down situation owing to COVID- 19 pandemic, it is not known how many C.B.I. personnel will be drafted from other wings and made available to assist the Investigating Officer, that The Investigating Officer should get acclimatised with the local terrain, and that On the flip side, the C.B.I. does not even have a Special Public Prosecutor in the Madurai Bench to appear in bail and anticipatory bail applications that may soon follow suit".
The court stated that all this will enure to the advantage of the actual perpetrators of the offence.
In parting, the Court also observed :
"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 for ever. 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 off with water. We cannot afford to emulate him. Hitherto, in the absence of credible materials, 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".