Observing that "any form of violence is a product of a sick mind", the Madras High Court on Thursday directed the State Government to continue with its Police Wellbeing Programme (aimed at robust mental health of the police force), in collaboration with NIMHANS, Bengaluru, as per plan for a period of five years, by allocating necessary funds for it.
The Division Bench of Justices P. N. Prakash and B. Pugalendhi was hearing the suo moto case taken on the horrific custodial deaths of a father-son duo, Jayaraj and Bennix after being arrested by Sathankulam police.
"Only through such wellbeing programmes can violent propensities in individuals be stymied", it stated.
The bench was informed that the programme had been conceived under a Government Order of June, 2018 and accordingly, the state and NIMHANS had entered into an agreement for a period of three years, under which 462 persons (254 policemen of the rank of Inspectors and Sub Inspectors and 208 trained counsellors) were selected and sent in batches of 40 to NIMHANS, Bengaluru, for undergoing a 5-day Programme. After undergoing the training, the 462 Master Trainers began counselling sessions at various centres throughout the State in the weekends for police officers from the rank of D.S.P. to Constable and to their families.
The Court was told that the State Government has allocated a sum of Rs.10 crores for this programme. The bench was apprised by NIMHANS experts that, however, on account of COVID-19 pandemic, the activities under the programme stand impaired and they were of the unanimous opinion that post- COVID-19, there will be a spike in cases of mental illness throughout the society.
"What troubles us is the grim picture painted by them about the mental health of people that obtains now and will obtain post-COVID -19 pandemic. They stated that a Programme that has well begun will bear fruition only if it is worked continuously for a period of five years and if the Programme is abandoned midway, whatever time, money and energy invested in it, will go down the drain", lamented the bench.
Conceding that they are "conscious of the fact that on account of the situation due to COVID-19, the State Government is cash-strapped", the court expressed the view that "having walked this far, the State Government should not abandon the Programme midway, because, public security can be ensured only if the police force is physically, mentally and morally strong"
The bench proceeded to reflect that "A few bad apples here and there, should not be a reason to condemn the entire force of around 1.25 lakhs police personnel in the State, who are already in the forefront, battling the COVID-19 pandemic".
"On the one hand, those responsible for the death of Bennicks and Jayaraj should not go scot-free and on the other hand, we cannot afford to lose any more Bennicks and Jayarajs to violence", articulated the bench.
The Court, on Thursday, was apprised of a few success stories under the programme, where the counsellors were able to help some policemen and their families to come out of stressful situations.
"They had even succeeded in arresting suicidal tendencies amongst the policemen and had brought about rapprochement amongst policemen estranged from their families", recorded the bench.
"We are further informed that 80% of the Master Trainers, who had undergone the wellbeing programme in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, are women of the rank of Inspectors and Sub Inspectors and that they are enthusiastically conducting the weekend sessions throughout the State. Dr.Sekar, Registrar, NIMHANS, specifically told us that a panel of three experts not connected with NIMHANS, Bengaluru, was constituted to evaluate the success of the Programme and he produced the report given by them which showed that the Programme has worked well", noted the bench.
As regards the Jeyaraj-Bennicks custodial deaths, the bench was informed by the CB-CID DSP, appointed by the court as the Investigating Officer in the case, has since taken over the investigation and registered separate cases in respect of the two death under section 176(1)(1A) of the CrPC. He submitted that has examined 15 witnesses, based on which, he altered the cases to one under Sections 342,302 and 201 I.P.C.; 5 persons have been named as accused in the case and that he arrested Raghuganesan (a co-accused, Sub-Inspector attached to Sathankulam PS) and produced him before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, for judicial custody. Thereafter, he has arrested some more persons and they are being interrogated.
On being informed that the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, had nominated the Judicial Magistrate No.I, Kovilpatti, for CB-CID Cases in the district, the bench was of the opinion a case of this gravity has to be dealt with by a judicial officer of the rank of a Subordinate Judge.
Therefore, the Court required that the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, should exercise the powers of the Judicial Magistrate No.I, Kovilpatti, in this case.
Reiterating that Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Chief Judicial Magistrate is the head of the Magistracy in the district and there is absolutely no bar for him to exercise the powers of a Judicial Magistrate functioning within his jurisdiction, and that under Section 410 Cr.P.C., the Chief Judicial Magistrate can withdraw any case from any Magistrate subordinate to him and may enquire into or try such case himself, the bench itself directed the transfer of the cases to the files of the CJM.
During the course of proceedings, the bench also called Revathy, Head Constable attached to Sathankulam Police Station, who had spilled beans on the delinquent police officials. With the phone on speaker mode on, "so that everyone could hear her", the Court enquired of her safety.
"She stated that the District Collector, Tuticorin, has provided her and her family members, sufficient security and that she feels safe in her native village with her relatives around her. We informed her that if and when she feels a threat to her security, she may inform the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, or the Judicial Magistrate No.I, Kovilpatti, who, in turn, would bring the matter to the notice of this Court. The learned Additional Advocate General also confirmed that sufficient security has been provided for Revathy and her family", recorded the bench
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