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Dear Mr. C.V.Shanmugam IAS, (Chief Secretary, Govt. of Tamil Nadu), Mr. Tripathy IPS (Director General of Police & Head of the Police Force, Chennai), and Mr. S.K Prabakar IAS (Home Secretary, Govt. of Tamil Nadu),

This letter is being addressed jointly to the three of you highlighting certain important concerns that need to be addressed in the State of Tamil Nadu with regards to our policing. I am made to understand from a representation made by the learned Additional Advocate General before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on 26th June 2020 in suo moto W.P (MD) No. 7042 of 2020 that the government is in the process of constituting a high-level committee comprising the Director General of Police, Home Secretary, Law Secretary, and other stakeholders to further strengthen the Standard Operating Procedure and make it more viable for implementation.

It is in the context of the above that I thought it is my duty with years of experiences behind me in handling such issues relating to the policing and accountability issues that I venture into this communication, hoping that the Hon’ble Chief Secretary, Home Secretary, and DGP will pay attention to the issues raised and incorporate the suggestions following found viable with the urgency that it requires. All the issues that are enumerated below are equally important and therefore not presented in order of any priority and it is my firm belief that this is the right time for the officials to be able to put these into an implementation mode because the climate prevailing in the state would be most conducive to welcome the above without any hesitation whatsoever.

sathankulam father and son1. State / District Police Complaints Authority in Tamil Nadu:

The Tamil Nadu Police Reforms Act 2013 (Act No. 22 of 2013) under chapter 4 titled “ Police Accountability “ in Section 10 outlines the establishment of a Police Complaints Authority at the state level with the secretary in-charge of the Home Department as its Chairperson, the Director-General of Police and Additional Director General of Police (Law & Order) as its members. The functions of this authority under Section 12 are to enquire into allegations of serious misconduct against the police personnel in the supervisory rank which include cases of death in police custody, rape, and grievous hurt in police custody.

The District Police Complaints Authority under section 12 will have the District Collector / District Magistrate as its chairperson and the Superintendent of Police and Additional Superintendent of Police as its members. In the cases of Chennai Commissionerate the District Collector / District Magistrate and the Commissioner of Police, Greater Chennai Police shall be the members while in all other Commissionerates the District Collector / District Magistrate shall remain the Chairperson with the Superintendent of Police of the district and senior-most Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Commissionerate shall be its member. This District Police Complaint Authority shall enquire into allegations of misconduct of serious misconduct against police personnel in the subordinate ranks. It is on occasions like this that we are better able to evaluate the value of such State level and District level Police Complaint Authorities that are created – their effectiveness as well as usage by the public.

The intention behind this setting up of Police Complaints Authorities was to ensure that a local mechanism specialized in handling a vide ambit of complaints against the police, including the most serious, was readily available to the public at large. The long-term goal was to create a change in policing culture by joint attention to and ensuring accountability for police abuses. The Supreme Court specified that the Chairpersons of the State level authorities are to be retired High Court or Supreme Court Judges and accordingly the district level authority is to be chaired by retired District Judges the other members are to be drawn from retired civil servants, police officers, officers from any other department or civil society.

The draft model bill after the judgment in Prakash Singh’s case stated retired judges as Chairs at the State and District level as well as including relevant qualifications for members. The qualifications cited where as follows:

  • five members with a “credible record of integrity and commitment to human rights”
  • one member must be “a retired police officer from another state cadre, superannuated in the rank of Director General of Police”
  • one member must have a “minimum of 10 years of experience either as a judicial officer, public prosecutor, practicing advocate, or a professor of law”
  • one member must be “a person of repute and standing from the civil society”
  • one member must be “a retired officer with experience in public administration from another state”
  • at least one member must be a woman and not more than one member must be a retired police officer.

Therefore, in the light of the above, if a genuine state and district level police complaints authority are to exist, is it not redundant to make serving authorities like District Magistrate, District Superintendent of Police, Deputy Commissioners, Home Secretary, etc. Chair and members of these committees. These officers are already there and, on many occasions, these are the officers mandated under the law, Police Standing Orders, and various judgements of the Supreme Court and High Courts to intervene or who take action or monitor action that is being undertaken. When such is a case, almost 14 years after the directions of the Hon’ble Prakash Singh’s case it is surprising that in December 2019 the State Government had informed the Madras High Court of these appointments during a hearing of a Public Interest Litigation filed by Adv. A.P. Surya Prakasam.

It is time for your goodselves in the context of what has happened in Sathankulam to introduce an ordinance immediately doing away with the present State and District Police Complaint Authorities as contemplated under the Tamil Nadu Police Reforms Act 2013 and following the specific directions in the judgement in Prakash Singh’s case of 2006 followed by the criteria developed in the draft model bill so that Tamil Nadu henceforth will have a mechanism that people can approach on matters of police excesses in their own districts and easily accessible to them.

2. CCTV camera in all police stations

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the year in 2015 directed the Centre and the State Governments to put police stations and interrogation rooms under the surveillance of CCTV cameras. This was an order by a Bench comprising Justices T.S.Thakur and R. Banumathi. Accordingly, today in almost all police stations across the state, CCTV cameras have been established. In the year 2016, the policy notes of the Government of Tamil Nadu ordered the installation of CCTV surveillance cameras for public safety. However, there seems to be no protocol of where exactly the CCTV cameras will be located and how many CCTV cameras are actually allotted to a police station in a city area and those in rural areas. In police stations where there is more than the ground floor, the protocol should specifically mention the establishment of these CCTV cameras on different floors and in particular also separate rooms.’

While CCTV cameras have been ordered there are further no protocols mentioning to whom will the footage in the CCTV Cameras be periodically shown to monitor what is taking place in police stations.

In the Sathankulam case relating to the custodial deaths of Jeyaraj and Bennicks who were in police custody on the night of the 19th June 2020 if there had been superior officers such as a DSP, or an Addl. SP or the SP himself who had been mandated to monitor the CCTV camera footage periodically and maintain a report much of the embarrassment caused to the police as a whole in the state government and the family losing two breadwinners would have been avoided. Even if the CCTV cameras were not monitored on the 19th and they had been monitored on the 20th or 21st. I therefore strongly recommend that there is a state-level protocol relating to CCTV cameras, their locations in police stations, the designated superior officers who are to monitor the footage daily and a responsibility of the Superintendent of Police to undertake separate checking of the same through the Special Branch with a periodic report submitted to the SP. On no account should any footage be erased without the full back up of the same being provided to the superior officer whose duty it shall be to maintain footage for a minimum period of six months at least.

3. A Third-party review of all criminal cases registered as FIRs in Sathankulam police station from 1st March 2020 onwards

In the background of several specific complaints such as the case of torture of Rajasingh, presently in the custody of Kovilpatti Sub Jail;

- the case of the illegal detention and torture of Mahendran leading to his death after hospitalisation on 13th June 2020 and cremation of the body;

- the case of nine pastors who were brutally tortured and false cases registered against them after which they were remanded to Judicial Custody on 21st February 2020;

- the case of Rev. Lazar, a pastor from Palaniyapuram who was beaten and a man with disability Mr. Ayyadurai who was severely and mercilessly beaten, etc; and

- many more persons who are either in judicial custody in Kovilpatti Sub Jail or who have been remanded to Judicial Custody with injuries by the same Judicial Magistrate Saravanan of Sathankulam; and

- all those in judicial remand not having access to a lawyer meeting them in prison citing the Corona protocols that prevent lawyers from meeting those in judicial custody;

- it is important to evolve a holistic mechanism that will take up all such cases for a very meticulous review.

The first case in point of Rajasingh has clearly been referred to by the lordships Justice P.N.Prakash and Justice P.Pugalenthi in their order of 26.06.2020 in suo moto WP (MD) No.7042 wherein para 11 they referred a report received from the Principal District Judge Thoothukudi that Rajasingh son of Susai Melapalayam, Sattakulam who had suffered serious injury and their Lordships directed the Chief Judicial Magistrate Thoothukudi to conduct an inquiry.

The same court in the same proceedings dated 2nd July 2020 in para 10 has further directed the Chief Judicial Magistrate Thoothukudi that if there is a full-fledged police investigation required that she exercises power u/s 156(3) Cr.P.C to direct the Station House Officer of the police station under whose jurisdiction the incident has taken place to conduct the investigation. In such directions, the SHO of the jurisdiction police station is to register an FIR, and thereafter the SP has been directed to transfer the said investigation to a Deputy Superintendent of Police. This is one case. We have now been informed that in the case of the illegal detention and torture and disposal of the body of Mahendran, there have been interventions undertaken by the District Legal Services Authority of Thoothukudi a DSP who is enquiring into the matter.

Therefore, in the interest of the public, particularly in the context of probably where there are several other similar cases of police torture and illegal detention, the State Legal Services Authority could be requested that the Thoothukudi District Legal Services Authority assign each of these cases to separate lawyers to undertake a field investigation of the accused, meeting the accused in person even if they are in Judicial Custody and ascertain whether any of the police officers of Sathankulam police station who have now been arrayed as accused in the instant case of Jeyaraj and Bennicks had also tortured them. If this is clearly established, then the facts of those cases should also be urgently brought to the attention fo the Bench handling the Suo Moto PIL in this case so that specific directions may be obtained.

This is the duty of the State Legal Services Authority in a very peculiar case of such this nature where the Inspector, Sub Inspector and some of the others who were silent spectators to acts of brutal torture and illegal detention including death in one case (Mahendran) and then subjecting false cases leading all the victims to remain totally silent and unable to speak fearing the threat of greater police repression on them.

4. Mr. Prathaban, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sathankulam and his criminal liability in the case :

Mr. Prathaban had taken over as the DSP Sathankulam only a few days before the incident of 19th June 2020. There is sufficient evidence in the public domain that Mr. Prathaban on the night of 19th June was addressing some of the close friends of Bennicks who had come to know of the torture going on in the police station and were representing the same to him. He was at that time accompanied by the Inspector of Police, Thatharmadam and he was located near the Kamaraj statue when he assured the crowd in public view that both the accused were fine and that he would produce Jeyaraj and Bennicks the following morning.

The DSP’s office is located less than 1/2 KM away from the Sathankulam Police Station. If this was the public assurance the DSP actually made, and there is sufficient evidence to this event in the public domain on the social media, Mr. Prathaban definitely would have had access to the police station earlier to his assurance and would have been in the know of whatever was taking place in the police station. He would not have made such a public statement otherwise.

A senior police officer of the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police could normally be expected under his responsibilities at least to have visited the Sathankulam Police Station after his assurance to the public and witness for himself who were those present in custody, whether torture was actually taking place; if there were the presence of outsiders in the police station; whether all the incidents now being complained off actually took place or not; and if such a serious incident was actually taking place he is expected under the law to also inform the Superintendent of Police and other higher officials. It is surprising that till date Mr. Prathaban has been well protected excepting for the suo moto criminal contempt notice against him by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court which I shall deal separately under another heading. Mr.Prathaban requires to be arrested immediately and duly investigated before he uses his powers, acquaintances, political pressures to do away with the evidence against him in this case.

5.The criminal liability of the Sub-Jail Superintendent of Kovilpatti Sub-Jail : 

It is noted in all the formal records that Jeyaraj and Bennicks were produced before the Kovilpatti Sub-Jail at 2.30 P.M having travelled perhaps almost 120 KMs in their medical state which journey alone would have taken almost a minimum of one hour 30 minutes. It is also public knowledge that the jailer in-charge of the sub-jail initially refused admission because of all the injuries that the accused had sustained. I am pained to enclose some of the photographs of Bennicks alone that were taken by the family members at the mortuary in Palayamkottai before the post-mortem. These are the injures that would have been seen by the jailor who should have consulted with the Sub-Jail Superintendent and it is only upon the advice of the Sub-Jail Superintendent that the admission of two such acutely injured individuals was made on the 20th Juen afternoon at 2.30 P.M.

While it is important to note what happened thereafter on the days of 20th, 21st, and 22nd, what treatment they were subjected to and by whom is to be investigated. It is important to ascertain if the jail Superintendent of Palayamkottai Jail and DIG of Prisons located in Madurai were also informed and if so how, when, and what actions followed. But irrespective of whatever followed, there needs to be an immediate suspension of the Jailor and the Sub-Jail Superintendent and thereafter if there are superior officers who were informed, like the Superintendent of Prison, Palayamkottai and the DIG of Prisons Madurai, necessary disciplinary action will have to initiate against them as well into what were their directions if any that they passed after knowing about this admission on 20th afternoon. 

Why judicial custody in Kovilpatti sub-jail and not at Peravurani or Palayamkottai or Tiruchender or Srivaikundam - all of which are within close travel possibilities than Kovilpatti Sub-Jail?. What was the material if any that was placed before the Judicial Magistrate, Sathankulam Mr. Saravanan to remand them to judicial custody in Kovialpatti rather than the Thoothukudi District jail in Peravurani or the Sub-jail in Thoothukudi or the Central Prison in Palayamkottai. I wish to state at this juncture that there is a separate memorandum as regards the role, functioning, culpability, or even conspiracy of the Judicial Magistrate Mr. Saravanan in this and many other cases which are being separately presented to the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. If the reason for choosing Kovilpatti Sub-Jail was because of the Corona time, then explanation has to be provided how the police personnel who were arrested were kept in the Peravurani district jail also during the Corona period just now. 

6. The role of the District and State intelligence wing in Thoothukudi :

It is our knowledge that every district has what is called a ‘Special Branch’ headed by the officer of the rank of Inspector titled Special Branch Inspector who had under him a large number of Inspectors, Head Constables and Constables and these days both men and women, for reporting on a daily basis of the happenings inside and outside police stations as well as all activities, protests, dissents, etc. initiated by either political parties or movements or human rights organisations within the district.

We are informed that there is a daily roll call where the Special Branch Inspector listens to all these reports from the field and then provides a briefing to the SP daily briefing. These are the eyes and ears of the SP and every police station has 1 police constable thus located. But the questions that are being raised now are who is the Special Branch Head Constable of Sathankulam police station and what was his report to his Superior officers on 20th, 21st, and 22nd June before 5.PM.; what is the report of the Special Branch CID in Kovilpatti East police station in whose jurisdiction the sub-jail is located about the admission procedure in the sub-jail of the two deceased. What was the role of the Special Branch Inspector in briefing the SP of the district on the incidents of the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd June? This is very serious negligence if the SP had not been intimated or had been intimated and no action was forthcoming from him.

In addition to the Special Branch, the State also has in its CID branch what is known as the Security Branch CID (SB CID) which is popularly known as SB CID. Besides, there are several other CID branches of the State government. All of whom report directly to their SPs at different locations and the police intelligence wing in the office of the DGP. In this case, it is important to find out what their report was on the happenings on the night of the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd June and when exactly the state Headquarters and the IG Intelligence (internal security) was informed of the same and his first briefing to the head of the police force your good self, Mr. Tripathy.

When was the District Magistrate, who is responsible for the law and order of the district first informed from either the CIDs or through the SP or through the Village Administrative Officer, or the Thalayaari or the Revenue Inspector or the local Tahsildar, etc under his jurisdiction, all of whom have offices located in Sathankulam. 

Based on the information provided about by the Special Branch and the SB CID the criminal liability of different persons will have to be fixed and investigated so that initially they will also have to be suspended if there is a need. 

7. Superior officers of the Thoothukdui district and the immunity they enjoy consistently in the Satankulam case:

The former SP Mr. Arun Balagopal IPS is a direct recruit IPS and has only been kept on wait without any posting. This seems a total reward to an officer who had the basis to know everything that was illegal taking place in the Sathankulam police station not only on the 19th but also earlier. I have already attributed a very clear criminal negligence on the part of the DSP Sathankulam Mr. Prathaban. But in addition, it is noted that in the report of Mr. Bharathidasan Judicial Magistrate Kovilpatti who is presently conducting the section 176(1)(a) Cr.P.C investigation and who has in a complaint to the Registrar of the Madras High Court made very clear allegations about the presence of Mr. Prathaban as well as Mr. Kumar, the Addl.SP of Thoothukudi. For the sake of convenience, I am not getting into narrating what the Judicial Magistrate’s report contained about both the senior officers.

While your government was fast in suspending the Head Constable Maharajan for his vulgar Tamil words used against the Judicial Magistrate and other behavior, the Additional Superintendent of Police and Superintendent of Police Mr. Kumar and Mr. Prathaban were only kept on temporary wait for a day and then provided their postings. Both of them, and the head constable Maharajan should have been formally arrested and a case u/s 353 IPC should have registered against the three of them solely based on the communication of the Judicial Magistrate to the Registrar of Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. Both the senior officers should have to be immediately suspended for their act committed against Mr. Bharathidasan and proceeded against criminally in a separate FIR registered for this. Disciplinary actions should have also been initiated against the SP, Mr. Arun Balagopal IAS.

8. Need for a white paper from the Government on the status of all reports received by the Government u/s 176(1)(A) Cr.P.C. since 01.01.2010 till 30.05.2020:

The Public Department of the Government is expected to follow all the reports of the Judicial Magistrates in the state u/s 176(1)(a) Cr.P.C. Before this amendment was carried out in the year 2006 such investigations in cases of custodial deaths were carried out by the Sub Divisional Executive Magistrate. But since almost the year 2010, in all such cases of custodial deaths, the investigations have now been regularly carried out only by Judicial Magistrates in the state. But we are not aware of these reports are being regularly reaching the office of the Public Secretary in the Home Department of the state. I, therefore, demand that the Government of Tamil Nadu produces a white paper immediately of how many such 176(1)(1a) reports from Judicial Magistrate had been received by the Public Secretary and what actions have been initiated by the Public Secretary for initiating legal action against the erring policemen where their criminal negligence has been established by Judicial Magistrate.

But even without waiting for the white paper, I wish to state that in most of the cases the reports u/s 176(1)(a) Cr.P.C has not proceeded to the Public Secretary by the Judicial Magistrate concerned. What is important for the public to know whether the Public Secretary through the Chief Secretary had ever communicated these concerns to the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. If there is going to be no action whatsoever taken based on such reports of investigations carried out by Judicial Magistrates in the state, then the objective of transferring such investigations from the Executive Magistrate to the Judicial Magistrate will not be met with. Therefore, we demand an urgent ‘White paper’ on the status of all these cases that have been investigated by a Judicial Magistrate u/s 176 (1) (a) from the time this practice was commenced to be followed throughout the state from 1.1.2010 till 30.05.2020

There seems to be no action on excesses committed by ‘erring policemen’ to persons in their custody over a period of 10 years and all those who are found to be responsible and this has only contributed to impunity where such incidents have occurred. Hence the demand for a while paper.

9. The SHRC and other SHRIs in Tamil Nadu 

Tamil Nadu has established a State Human Rights Commission, a State Commission for Women (SCW), a State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (TNSCPCR), a State Commission for Minorities (SCM), and a State Commissioner for Persons with Disability. All of them are statutory bodies which mandate that they attend to such gross human rights violations on women by the SCW, on minorities by the SCM, on children by the SCPCR and on Persons with Disabilities by the State Commissioner on PWDs.

The SHRC has the vacancy of a full-time Chairperson now. This matter of the vacancy as well as other matters these institutions should be governed by the Paris Principles of the United Nations 1993 concerning principles of independence, diversity, powers and jurisdiction, cooperation, transparency, and accountability. The most important aspect of the Paris Principles is that the selection process has to ensure diversity, competency, and professional persons to head the same. Now SHRC is headless and only has an Acting Chair. We have also not had a Chair for the SCPCR for several months now and for the past 2 months, no members as well in the SCPCR. There are 37 vacancies in the SHRC.

Besides, the remuneration paid to the members of the SCW, SCPCR, SMC are with great respect poorly low and just in terms of indicating how low they are a Member of the SCPCR in Tamil Nadu state is paid Rs.12,000 a year @ Rs 1000/= per sittings for 12 sittings that they are supposed to attend per year. The allocation of budgets are low and therefore at a time of gross public concern on human rights violations in the state like this, there needs to be a special high-level team of experts including civil society appointed to make recommendations to the government on what needs to urgently be done for restoring respectability to each of these institutions to protect the human rights of the people in Tamil Nadu.

The culture of appointing retired IAS officers to these commissions must come to a definite stop. Let IAS officers rest after their retirement and offer pro bono service. Let IPS officers also do the same. Let professional people of calibre be appointed after the vacancies in the different SHRIs are announced made public, indicators evolved, and a public announcement and public processes are followed. When a body as diverse as the United Nations Special Rapporteurs selection process involving 193 countries in the world is transparent why is it that we cannot do it here? 

I will be happy if the said memorandum could have your kind attention and necessary actions be urgently taken in the matters referred in the same. We assure you our fullest co-operation to ensure that we support the Government in all the matters referred to herein.

- Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People's Watch

Copy to:

-       Chairman, Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority

-       Additional Director General of Police (Law & Order), Police Head Quarters

-       All Region Inspector General of Police in Tamil Nadu

-       All Range Deputy Inspector General of Police in Tamil Nadu

-       All District Collectors Cum District Magistrates in Tamil Nadu

-       All Commissioners of Police in the Commissonerates

-       All District Superintendents of Police in Tamil Nadu

-       All District Legal Services Authorities in Tamil Nadu

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