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Madras High Court orders CBI probe into Thoothukudi police firing

Published Aug 15, 2018, 1:58 am IST
Updated Aug 15, 2018, 1:58 am IST
Madras High Court
 Madras High Court

Chennai: In a major setback to the state government and the police, the Madurai bench of Madras high court, on Tuesday, ordered a CBI probe into the police firing against anti-Sterlite protestors in Thoothukudi on May 22. 

A division bench comprising Justices C.T. Selvam and A.M. Basheer Ahamed, before which a batch of PILs, requesting for a CBI probe into the events of the 100th day of the anti-Sterlite protest, came up for hearing, ordered CBI probe and completion of the investigation within four months. The CBI director has been ordered to constitute a special team to carry out the investigation.

 Setting aside detention of six protesters (Makkal Adhikaram) under the National Security Act, 1980, the Bench, in another order, quashed multiple FIRs filed by the police against the Thoothukudi protesters after concluding that the same amounted to an abuse of statutory powers.

 Local residents were protesting against the expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelting plant at Thoothukudi. On May 22, violence broke out on the 100th day of the anti-Sterlite agitations after police opened fire on residents who were marching towards the District Collector’s office. Thirteen civilians were shot dead by the police and over 200 others were maimed for life. 

Subsequently, on May 28, the Tamil Nadu government directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to shut down the Sterlite Copper Smelter plant in Thoothukudi. In June, the then Chief Justice of Madras HC, Indira Banerjee, had said that the cases related to the anti-Sterlite protest in Thoothukudi must be probed by CBI. She had remarked that it was only fair that the investigation be done by the central agency since the police is involved in the case. A total of 173 FIRs were registered on the protestors based on everything that happened on May 22, and several more were arrested and locked up in jail. 
Ordering CBI probe, the Bench stated that the events leading up to the firing and the process that followed were rife with irregularities, the bench asked “How self-loading rifles found their way out of the armoury and came to be used in shooting dead persons, how the snipers were perched atop vehicles and how persons came to be shot in the face and chest, all are questions that cry for an answer.”

  Raising concern over the reluctance of authorities to register cases against police officials for the alleged delinquent acts, the bench said, “The case of the petitioners is that the state/police and other authorities are guilty of murder. We fail to understand how not a single case, not even invoking Section 174 Cr.P.C., has been registered at the instance of the injured/family members of the deceased. The truth or otherwise of the allegation is a matter for investigation. An investigation cannot be altogether avoided.”

  Stating that the state has much to answer, the bench said, “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. It can hardly be expected that any investigation, either into the wrong doings of the protesters or of the administration/oolice, would inspire confidence if entrusted to agencies of this state.”

 The judges said the HC’s first bench led by the then Chief Justice Indira Banerjee had raised a question of why the investigation should not be handed over to CBI.

 The court also directed the modification of police order no. 703, which deals with the protocol to be adopted when police firing is resorted to. Stating that the protocol was not followed, the court has directed that it be appropriately modified, keeping in mind the international standards for the use of force and firearms as per the United Nations guidelines. The court has emphasised that international guidelines be followed before resorting to the suspension of telecom services during such events.



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