IN a severe embarrassment to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government in Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court on September 19 granted bail to R.R. Gopal, Editor of the Tamil biweekly Nakkheeran, who had been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The court also portrayed the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) of the Tamil Nadu Police, which arrested him, in a poor light. The CB-CID arrested Gopal in April under Section 4(a) of POTA for allegedly possessing an unauthorised weapon in a notified area.
The Division Bench of the High Court comprising Justice P. Shanmugam and Justice T.V. Masilamani pointed out that the CB-CID had given three different versions on the type of weapon seized from Gopal. The order said that in the light of these contradictions, "we find prima facie that the weapon could not have been in the possession of Mr. Gopal or recovered from him".
The Judges pointed out that when the possession of an unauthorised weapon (in a notified area) was an offence under POTA, the prosecution could not hold a person guilty of a terrorist act if it could not prove that he possessed a particular weapon or "arm". "The documents furnished by the prosecution themselves are contradicting," the order said. A delighted A. Kamaraj, the magazine's Associate Editor, alleged that the CB-CID filed the case against Gopal because of the "vindictive attitude" of the AIADMK government. "We will continue to fight legally all the cases filed against Nakkheeran and its journalists, and win again," Kamaraj said. He added that with Gopal already having been granted bail in all the other cases filed against him, he would be freed in a couple of days.
The CB-CID arrested Gopal from outside his office in Chennai in a cloak-and-dagger operation on the night of April 11, as an accused in the alleged murder of a police informant, Rajamani, by forest brigand Veerappan in 1998. It filed another case against Gopal under the Arms Act and Section 124-A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). On April 16, Section 4(a) of POTA was invoked against Gopal. There were glaring inconsistencies in the CB-CID versions. Its telegram to the Nakkheeran office regarding Gopal's arrest claimed that he was in possession of an "unlicensed revolver". But the April 12 First Information Report alleged that he carried an "unlicensed country-made pistol". An "alteration report" submitted to the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate the same day said that he had "a country-made gun with two live muskets of 410". It added that Gopal had a "booklet" in support of the TNLA. But its earlier versions called it a "pamphlet". (A CB-CID press release also claimed that on April 26, it seized several items including one Webley and Scott gun made in England, one country-made weapon, ammunition for single barrel guns, 123 gelatine sticks, and so forth after they were "identified" by Gopal).
The Division Bench, which heard Gopal's bail application, said: "It is obvious that all three versions cannot be correct. A revolver is different from a pistol. Similarly, a gun will be different from a revolver and a pistol. The 410 muskets could not go along with the gun, pistol or revolver." The Judges, therefore, believed "prima facie that the appellant (Gopal) might not have had the arms said to have been recovered from him, in the light of the clear contradictions." They added, "Had the recovery of a particular weapon been really made, there could not have been a discrepancy of such a nature, which is vital and crucial." So they granted him bail, directing him to execute a personal bond for Rs.25,000 with two sureties for a like sum. He should reside in Chennai and report before the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at 11 a.m. every day. Senior Advocate N. Natarajan appeared for Gopal in the High Court. He was assisted by advocate N.R. Elango.T.S. Subramanian