Thoothukudi firing: Aruna Jagadeesan Commission recommends withdrawal of ‘false’ cases and payment of compensation to the victims of police torture

Published : May 15, 2021 17:57 IST

Justice Aruna Jagadeesan (left) handing over the interim report to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on May 14. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The one-member Commission headed by Justice Aruna Jagadeesan inquiring into the anti-Sterlite protest and the police firing that claimed 14 lives on May 22 and 23, 2018, in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, has recommended that the government “withdraw 244 foisted cases against 400 youths, all in the age group of 18-35, illegally detained after the May 22 police firing”.

Aruna Jagadeesan, former Judge of the Madras High Court, submitted a 35-page interim report along with a four-part annexure of supporting evidences such as video footage and other documents to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin at the State Secretariat in Chennai on May 14, 2021, in the presence of Chief Secretary V. Irai Anbu. She briefed the Chief Minister about the crux of her interim report, which contained some far-reaching suggestions and recommendations, including payment of adequate compensation to the victims of police torture.

The youths who had been illegally arrested and detained after the law and order disturbances in Thoothukudi and surrounding villages could not continue their studies or remain in employment. “Ninety-four youths and boys were taken to the Vallanadu Police Firing Range near Thoothukudi and tortured. All these cases were just `pick and choose’ ones. They should be given ‘no objection certificates’ from the respective law enforcing authorities that detained them illegally and named them in First Information Reports (FIR) so that they could continue with their studies and employments apart from getting Visas and Passports,” she told the Chief Minister.

She also pointed out that the jobs that were offered by the previous government to 19 kith and kin of those who were killed in police firing were not in line with their educational qualifications. “They were low profile jobs like assistants in VAO [Village Administrative Officer] offices and cooks in Anganwadi centres. Many among them are graduates including in engineering,” a source in the Commission said. The source claimed that the commission had recommended Rs.20 lakh as compensation to the family of Justin (29), who was seriously injured in police action in May 2018 and died after five months of medical treatment.

[After the firing and violence on May 22 and 23, 2018, the police had picked up many innocent youths and boys and detained them in unknown places before subjecting them to third degree torture. They took away youths in the age group of 18-30 forcefully from their beds and none of them was produced in court for two full days until the court intervened following a petition from advocates in Thoothukudi.]

Justice Aruna Jagadeesan told Frontline that the main part of the inquiry, to be pursued henceforth, would involve the police and revenue and other important officers involved in the police firing and other subsequent happenings. “I met around 700 people so far and got their statements recorded. I visited the houses of those who were killed in police firing except the one whose house was located at Usilampatti in Madurai district. I interacted with them and instilled confidence in their minds. They are all totally shattered. They told their grievances,” she said.

In its 27 sittings so far, the Commission has summoned 1,052 people and examined 719 witnesses, besides scrutinising 1,126 documents, including the Central Bureau of Investigation’s 71 charge sheets against 440 persons in two batches. The CBI is also conducting an investigation as per the court’s directive.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government was forced to appoint the Commission after it faced strong public resentment against the police brutality that was unleashed on civilians during the anti-Sterlite protests. A few media reports claimed that the interim report was ready by last year and that despite repeated reminders about the Commission’s readiness to submit it, the then AIADMK government had not responded. The report was submitted on May 14, after the office of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin enquired about the progress of the inquiry on May 13.

The terms of reference of the Commission were to inquire into the causes and circumstances leading to the opening of fire resulting in death and injuries to persons on May 22, 2018, in Thoothukudi, including damage to public and private properties. It was to determine whether appropriate force was used as warranted by the circumstances and whether all prescribed procedures were observed before opening fire. It was also asked to ascertain whether there the police officers committed any excess and, if so, suggest action against them.

Sterlite Industries’ smelter plant at Thoothukudi against which people were protesting for environmental reasons has remained shut since April 9, 2018, following the Pollution Control Board’s refusal to give a consent to operate (CTO) certificate because of the management’s failure to adhere to environmental concerns. The plant was closed permanently following the law and order disturbances during a rally against the plant and the killing of 14 civilians in police firing on May 22-23, 2018.

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