Over five months after 13 residents of Thoothukudi district were shot dead on the 100th day of protests against Sterlite Copper, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against unknown persons and officials of the police and revenue departments.
The officials, who are yet to be identified, have been booked for criminal conspiracy and disobeying law with intent to cause injury to any person, amongst other sections. The number of officials booked is not known yet.
The FIR filed on Wednesday is based on the complaint of KS Arjunan, the District Secretary of CPI(M) in Thoothukudi district. Arjunan's complaint had been directly addressed to the Joint Director of the CBI.
The FIR filed by CBI comes after the Madras High Court orders that the body should register cases on the complaints received against officials and police in respect to occurrences at Tuticorin on May 22 and investigate it thereon.
The Madurai bench of Madras High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the police firing in Thoothukudi on August 14. A bench consisting of Justices Basheer Ahamed and CT Selvam passed the order after hearing about 15 Public Interest Litigations (PIL) requesting a CBI probe into the events of the anti-Sterlite protest, which had turned violent.
The HC order had stated, “It will be the duty of the CBI to get to the bottom of things and file such charge sheet/sheets, as the investigation revealed and necessitates. The action hereinabove shall be completed within a period of four months on the receipt of this order. Towards such end, the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi is directed to appoint a special team for investigation as above ordered."
While the FIR comes a month after the deadline given by the HC, the CBI has handed over the responsibility of investigation to Deputy SP R Ravi. The CBI has further confirmed that they have taken up the probe and that the police firing along with related incidents will be investigated. The investigative agency is also looking into allegations of 'public servant framing incorrect document with intent to cause injury, robbery, dacoity, punishment for criminal intimidation and Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention'.
Following the protests in Thoothukudi and subsequent shooting, the police and district authorities largely maintained that the loss of life was a result of an intelligence failure and was an unplanned effort to protect government buildings and authorities.
But visuals telecast by Tamil TV channels showed policemen in plain clothes taking aim from top of a police van and firing at protesters. In a sequence of events caught on video, a policeman in a yellow t-shirt is standing on top of the van and shooting with a rifle. Later, another policeman in a black t-shirt climbs to the top of the van, lies down and takes aim to shoot. The protesters don’t seem to be in the near vicinity of the police. Other reports say that police took aim from vantage points on roofs of buildings too.
While the visuals enraged activists and the public, the audio heard in the background was even more chilling. As a policeman is on top of the van, a voice in the background can be heard saying, “At least one should die.”
The video was shot from the vicinity of the police officers and one can see that mostly policemen are around the van. It was, however, not clear as to who exactly made that statement. But the audio exposed the intention of at least some of the policemen who were assembled there to control the protesters. The rules of engagement for police officers in India make it very clear that the use of firearms to control a crowd is allowed only in extreme and exceptional circumstances, and as a preventive measure, not as a punitive measure.
Moreover, an FIR, filed against 20 citizen groups in the district and a copy of which is in TNM’s possession, states that it was a 'Deputy Tahsildar' who gave the green signal to the police to shoot at demonstrators. But legal experts said that only the magistrate or an official vested with powers of the magistrate can order for shooting.
"As per the code of criminal procedure, the magistrate can delegate power to issue such an order to the - Collector, RDO, Tahsildar or zonal Tahsildar. This is done in the case of an emergency. It is not a time-consuming process. A government order has to be passed," a former judge of the Madras High Court, Justice K Chandru told TNM.
"But from all my years in the legal system, I can tell that no GO (Government order) would have been passed in this instance. The action comes first and later the necessary documentation will be cooked up. The police know that the administration will protect them, so they go ahead and act first," he added.