Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: A Division Bench of P.N. Prakash and B. Pugalendhi, JJ. had directed the Judicial Magistrate (I), Kovilpatti, to go to Sathankulam for conducting enquiry into the custodial deaths of a father-son duo. The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has taken suo motu cognizance of the act.

The incident

Jayaraj and his son Bennicks were taken into custody by the police and brought to Sathankulam Police Station, Tuticorin, for allegedly they had not closed their mobile shop even after the permitted time and thereby violated general prohibitory orders passed during the COVID-19 lockdown period. In the status report filed by the Superintendent of Police, Tuticorin, it has been further reported that when the Beat Police Officer asked the now deceased prisoners to close the shop, they abused the police constables, prevented them from discharging their official duty and threatened them with dire consequences. This status report was filed by the SP, Tuticorin, pursuant to the directions of the High Court in its earlier order dated 24th June 2020.

The said incident happened on 19th June. The deceased father-son were brought to the police station the same night. They were produced before the Judicial Magistrate, Santhankulam, the next day, i.e. 20th June, and remanded to custody at the Sub-Jail, Kovilpatti. On 22nd June, Bennicks was admitted to the Government Hospital, Kovilpatti, at 7:45 p.m., and Jeyaraj at 10:30 p.m. While undergoing treatment, Bennicks expired on the night of 22nd June at 9 p.m. and Jeyaraj expired in the morning of 23rd June at 5:40 a.m. Two FIRs into the said incident have been registered at the Kovilpatti East Police Station. On this account, the Judicial Magistrate (I), Kovilpatti, assumed charge to conduct enquiry under Section 176(1)(1-A) CrPC. As directed by the High Court in its previous order, the post-mortem was done at the Government Hospital, Tirunelveli, by a panel of three experts in the presence of the Judicial Magistrate (I), Kovilpatti. The post-mortem was also videographed. 

Directions

Having regard to the said facts, the Court noted that in this charged and tensed atmosphere, the Judicial Magistrate (I), Kovilpatti, would not have been in a position to examine the family members of the deceased as they would have been under untold stress. Sathankulam is about 100 kms from Kovilpatti. Therefore, to serve the interests of justice, the following directions were issued:

(a) The Judicial Magistrate (I), Kovilpatti, may go to Sathankulam for conducting the enquiry, so that the witnesses will be in a position to appear before him and their statements can be recorded.

(b) The Judicial Magistrate is also at liberty to visit the family members of the deceased for the purpose of recording the statements of the womenfolk, who may not be in a position to come out, as they will be in the period of mourning.

(c) The Judicial Magistrate may also conduct local inspection under Section 310 CrPC, visit the Sathankulam Police Station and take photocopies of all the records relating to Sathankulam PS Cr. No. 312 of 2020, including the Case Diary in Sathankulam PS Cr. No. 312 of 2020 and the Station General Diary. He may also record the statements of the policemen in the Sathankulam Police Station itself, so that he may get an idea as to where all the deceased were kept during their detention.

(d) The Judicial Magistrate shall also take a photocopy of the case diary in Sathankulam PS Cr. No. 312 of 2020 and the original case diary shall be handed over to the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Tuticorin, for safe custody.

(e) The Judicial Magistrate may also visit the place of occurrence in Cr. No. 312 of 2020 for better appreciation of the facts and may also take videographs of the place of occurrence wherever he finds it necessary.

(f) The Judicial Magistrate may use the Sathankulam Court premises as camp office for conducting the enquiry and the staff members of the Sathankulam Court premises shall be at his disposal, till the enquiry is completed.

(g) The Judicial Magistrate may visit the Sub-Jail, Kovilpatti, and take photocopies of all the records, including the admission register and other medical records, duly attested by the Superintendent of the Sub-Jail.

(h) The Judicial Magistrate shall also collect the CCTV footages wherever they are available and have them preserved.

(i) The Tuticorin district administration shall provide all necessary facilities and protection to the Judicial Magistrate thereby enabling him to discharge his functions.        

The aforesaid directions issued by the Court are primarily in the nature of guidance to the Magistrate for him to follow. The Court made it clear that by issuing the aforesaid slew of directions, it is not interfering with the manner in which the Judicial Magistrate should conduct the enquiry and the Court left it open to his discretion to understand the ground reality and act accordingly.

The Court said that it earnestly hope and trust that the family members of the deceased, local Bar, fourth estate, public, political parties and NGOs would provide a congenial atmosphere for the Magistrate to conduct the enquiry, so that ultimately, justice is done to the parties.

Until further orders, two cases filed pursuant to the FIRs in the death of Jeyaraj and Bennicks will be dealt with by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Kovilpatti Range.

The Principal District Judge, Tuticorin, is also personally monitoring the case and is briefing the High Court from time to time in this regard.

Pursuant to the observation made by the Court in the earlier order dated 24th June 2020, the Director General of Police, Chennai-4, has issued a circular memorandum dated 25th June 2020, setting out the Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with persons who violate the lockdown regulations. The High Court took on record the said Circular Memorandum and placed on record our appreciation to the Director General of Police for the efforts taken in this regard. However, it was made clear that the Standard Operating Procedure should not remain on paper alone, but, should be implemented in spirit as well. In this regard, it was suggested that the Police Department engage the services of counsellors and NGOs for providing counselling to the police personnel and their family members during this testing period.

The matter is posted for 30th June 2020. [High Court of Madras v. State of T.N., 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1249 , dated 26-6-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, JJ has refused to entertain the plea seeking SIT probe in the custodial deaths of two men in Bihar’s Sitamarhi.

The order reads,

“We are not inclined to entertain these petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The writ petitions are, accordingly, dismissed. The petitioners may move the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution, if so advised. We make it clear that we have not expressed any opinion on the merits of the case.”

The petition was moved before the Supreme Court by NGO “Citizens Against Hate” through advocate Fauzia Shakil demanding an SIT probe monitored by a former Director General of Police of another State and a magisterial inquiry into the death of two Muslim men – Taslim Ansari and Ghufran Ansari. Both of them were taken into custody on March 5 for allegedly killing a man while stealing his motorbike.

When their families reached the police station the next day, they were told that the men were already dead. However, the families discovered wounds on the bodies of both the men and filed an FIR for their custodial deaths. Consequently, 5 policemen were suspended but no one has been arrested yet.

The Court, however, held that it was not inclined to entertain the petition and that the petitioners had the right to move the High Court.

[Citizens Against Hate v. State of Bihar, Writ Petition (Criminal) No.130/2019, decided on 02.07.2019]

(With inputs from The Leaflet)

Case BriefsHigh Courts

“Prolongation of the trial for over two decades, compounded by the endemic systematic delays, have frustrated the attempts at securing effective justice for the victims.”

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, JJ. while witnessing an appeal in the case of “targeted killings of persons belonging to one minority community” known as the ‘Hashimpura Tragedy’ convicted the 16 accused PAC personnel who were acquitted 28 years after the incident by the trial court and now convicted after 31 years of injustice served to the families of the victims left behind.

The cold-blooded murder despatched to the watery grave of around 42 to 45 men of which 38 did not survive, old and young, all Muslim by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) was the tragedy of Hashimpura, Meerut. These men were all taken by the PAC personnel in a truck by dividing them into two separate groups which resulted in two different incidents, one taking place at the Ganga Nahar and other at Hindon. In 1987, the said incident took place when paramilitary and military forces had been posted due to the occurrence of riots in Meerut district for riot control and security. Survival of 5 men who witnessed the horrific tale is the reason for the justice served in the present case.

The criminal justice process concerning the murders commenced with the registration of two FIR’s and further, the investigation being handed over to the Crime Branch, Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID), Uttar Pradesh. Supreme Court by its orders in 2002 and 2007 had transferred the trial of the cases to Delhi. Trial meandered for over 8 years and finally, the judgment on 23-3-2015 was pronounced in which the 16 remaining accused were acquitted. Aggrieved by the acquittal, 3 appeals were filed.

The High Court on noting the submissions including the intervenors (NHRC) along with the trial court’s judgment, concluded its decision by convicting the 16 accused PAC personnel who were acquitted by the trial court due to the non-identification of both the trucks in which 42-45 men were abducted and killed.

“This case points to the systematic failure that results, not infrequently, in a miscarriage of justice.”

The Court stated that “we are conscious that for the families of those killed, this is perhaps too little, too late. They have had to wait for 31 years for justice.” The only basis on which the trial court had acquitted the accused was due to no proof for the truck URU 1493 being used in the incident. The trial court was also not at fault as the benefit of additional evidence as attained by the High Court was not with the trial court and therefore the trial court held that:

“No clinching evidence on record without infirmities on the circumstance relating to identity of the truck and accused persons and therefore, the accused persons cannot be convicted on the basis of scanty, unreliable and faulty investigation which has gaps and holes.”

Nonetheless, the High Court now with the benefit of additional evidence convincingly established the accused persons were very much present with the truck URU-1493 in which the victims were abducted and taken away. Accepting the suggestion of NHRC, the court recommended that every SLSA should designate a Nodal Officer to address the needs of the victim families in the case of custodial killings or state excesses.

Accordingly, the appeal was disposed of by convicting the abovesaid accused and sentenced them to life imprisonment for the offence punishable under Section 302 read with Section 120-B IPC along with Sentence for other offences which were directed to run concurrently. [Zulfikar Nasir v. State of U.P.,2018 SCC OnLine Del 12153, decided on 31-10-2018]