Vakapalli gangrape: Andhra government delays probe against accused ex-cop

A botched investigation in the Vakapalli gangrape case of Adivasi women in 2007, led to the acquittal of all 13 accused and a court direction to probe the investigating officer. But one year later, the government has not made a move against him and the retired officer is a thriving politician.
Mandra Sivananda Reddy, Nandyal Parliament Incharge of TDP
Mandra Sivananda Reddy, Nandyal Parliament Incharge of TDP Facebook
Written by:

It took more than 16 years for a judgement to be delivered in the case of the gangrape of 11 Adivasi women in Vakapalli village in Andhra Pradesh. The court acquitted every one of the 13 accused – all belonging to a special police force – in the case. So badly was the case investigated that the court directed a probe against the investigating officer. A year after that judgement was passed, the government shows no signs of constituting a committee for inquiry and the concerned officer – now retired – continues to enjoy an unhindered political career.

Making matters worse for the victims was the court’s judgement on April 6, 2023, saying the women were indeed subjected to sexual assault but the investigation was so shoddy that the prosecution was unable to make the case. All that the victims got by way of justice was compensation ordered by the court to be paid to them.

It was on August 20, 2007, that a special anti-Naxal police force – the Greyhounds – entered the Vakapalli village located in present-day Alluri Sitharama Raju district, during a combing operation. Eleven tribal women belonging to the Kondh tribe (classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group) alleged that 21 men from the force raped them at gunpoint when they came to the village. Even as the news of the alleged assault broke, the then Home Minister and senior police officers of the state were quick to defend the policemen and question the complaint. After several hiccups in the investigation, charges against eight of the accused men were dropped and 13 were charged with the offence. By the time the trial began in 2018, two of the victims had died.

The 11th Additional District Sessions Court and Special Court under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in Visakhapatnam on April 6, 2023, highlighted several lapses by the two officers, B Ananda Rao, who handled the case initially and M Sivananda Reddy of the Crime Investigation Department (CID). As Ananda Rao had died by then, the judge ordered an inquiry against M Sivananda Reddy by an apex committee constituted by the state government. 

Serious lapses in investigation

It was an egregious list of lapses by the two officers that the court pointed out. The panchnama of the scene of crime and the victims’ statements were recorded 18 days after the crime; the statements of the accused were recorded even before recording the statements of the victims; both the officers never conducted an identification parade and when Sivananda Reddy took over the case, he did not bother to collect any documents from the Paderu police station, which had initially handled the case. Even the medical examinations on the victims were delayed and potency tests on the accused were never conducted.

Initially, the Paderu police filed a case under section 376(2) (rape by police officer) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and relevant sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The women’s statements were recorded by the first investigating officer, Botsa Ananda Rao, after 18 days, on September 8, 2007. The victims soon approached the High Court as there was an inordinate delay in recording their statements and they also alleged that Anand Rao had offered money to some of the victims to withdraw the case. The High Court handed over the investigation to the Crime Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID). 

The CB-CID officer Sivananda Reddy recorded the statements of the women on September 29, 2007. The trial finally started in May 2018 after a nudge from the Supreme Court, which had vacated a stay on the case based on a special leave petition filed by the accused. It directed that the trial should be completed in six months, but it took six years. A total of 38 witnesses were examined during the trial. With several lapses in the investigation process, including delayed medical examinations and the disappearance of log registers, the CID submitted a final report stating that no incident of rape had occurred.

In its final judgement, the court said that two officers did not take any steps to collect any log registers to establish the presence of the accused at the time of the alleged offence. However, the court noted that even if they were produced before the court, it would not help unless the women identified the accused who committed rape against them respectively, which all of them failed to do so in the open court. 

“The court also gave a clear finding that the investigation was botched up. The investigating officer started the investigation with a notion that the case was false. It is not the duty of the police to judge who did what but simply follow the procedure. That did not happen in this case,” said Special Public Prosecutor Sunkara Rajendra Prasad. 

“If the identification parade was conducted earlier, the judgement would have been in favour of the victims. But one thing to be borne in mind is whether the victims identified the accused or not, is a secondary issue but it is the duty of the Investigating Officer to perform their duty as required by law. Both Anand Rao and Sivananda Reddy did not perform their duty completely and it amounts to dereliction of their duties, which helped the accused in their acquittal. As found from the record, they did not even conduct potency tests of the accused, which is an important aspect,” the judgement said.  

However, there have been no attempts made to set up a committee to probe Sivananda Reddy as per the court order. In the meanwhile, Sivananda Reddy has embarked on a political career.

The political rise of Sivananda Reddy

Sivananda’s father Gidda Reddy is a well-known leader from the Nandikotkur constituency in Kurnool district. Gidda Reddy had contested from Nandikotkur Assembly in 1994 from Congress. In a video interview with a YouTube channel ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Sivananda said that his family was close to the late CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh YS Rajasekhar Reddy. “We had a direct link with YS Rajasekhar Reddy. He used to consider all our requests,” Sivananda Reddy said. 

After retiring from the police department in 2009, Sivananda Reddy ventured into the real estate business in Hyderabad. Later, he entered politics and joined the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in 2014 and campaigned for YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, who was the Opposition leader at that time. However, due to some differences, Sivananda Reddy left YSRCP and joined Telugu Desam Party after the 2014 Assembly elections. The party offered him a ticket to contest from Nandyal Lok Sabha seat in 2019. He polled 36% of votes but lost to YSRCP candidate Pocha Bramhananda Reddy. 

Regarding the court directive, Sumit Kumar, Superintendent of Police of Alluri Sitarama Raju district, told TNM that the department is seeking a legal opinion to respond to the judgement. “The officer is a retired policeman and the department is seeking legal opinion on how to proceed to take action,” the officer told TNM. 

“The police must implement the court order or challenge it. There were several investigation lapses. If a rape case is filed, a potency test is a must. In this case, it was conducted a decade later only after I approached the court,” Sunkara Rajendra Prasad said.

“The delay is appalling. It's been close to a year and action must be initiated and ensured as per court order. The accused were acquitted because of him. It is a serious deliberate act on the part of the investigation officers,” VS Krishna of Human Rights Forum (HRF) said. 

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute