From failing to act on time in the Kevin Joseph murder case to the custodial death of Sreejith, there have been a series of lapses by the Kerala police, but CM Pinarayi will not admit he’s failed as Home Minister.

Grave lapses apathy by Kerala police but why has there been zero accountabilityChief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan
news Law and order Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - 13:56

More than a month after Latvian tourist went missing from Kovalam beach, her decomposed body was found on April 21. Weeks later, the Kerala police arrested two men for sexually assaulting the woman before murdering and disposing off her body. Despite the police being unable to make any headway into the probe for over a month, Kerala DGP Loknath Behera heaped praise on his men for tracing the accused using ‘circumstantial and scientific’ evidence.

Despite Behera’s pride at being able to crack the sensational case, neither the Kerala DGP nor the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front have been able to deflect the criticism that has come their way. The LDF government and the Kerala police headed by Behera, who took over in June 2017 have been criticised for their laxity and apathy.  

While Pinarayi, CPI(M)’s strongest face and a leader with clout has been accused of being a failure as a Home Minister, Behera unlike his predecessor lacks the vision to lead the force, say critics. This has resulted in a series of lapses, putting the government on the backfoot, while tainting CPI(M)’s image.

Series of lapses

The Latvian woman’s mysterious disappearance, however, is just one among a number of cases that have exposed the failure of the state police. The latest case is the unjustifiable delay by police officials in acting on the missing complaint of the parents and wife of Kevin Joseph, a 23-year-old man, who was abducted and later killed.

Fingers have once again been pointed at the police for its failure to act, leading to Kevin’s death. His body was found in a swamp on Monday.

Read: Their son murdered for marrying, Kerala Dalit family welcomes his bride home

On April 9, Sreejith, a 26-year-old man from Varappuzha died following custodial torture. Details that had emerged showed that Sreejith had around 20 injuries on his body, including to his genitals. He succumbed to his injuries at a hospital, two days after he was taken into police custody on charges of abetment to suicide.

Read: Irrefutable evidence of custodial death: Sreejith had 20 injuries, one turned fatal

In May, a ten year old girl was sexually abused in a movie theatre. The police, however, initially failed to act on the information despite visuals of the crime being provided by Child Line.

In similar incidents in the past the police delayed action in rape and suicide cases of minor girls in Valayar in Palakkad and Kundara in Kollam. In all the cases, the LDF government attempted to save face by taking disciplinary action against the police.

Another example of the weak law enforcing system is the fact that Kerala is yet to have a permanent head for the key post of the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau after Jacob Thomas was removed from the post in March 2017. Behera was holding additional charge until NC Asthana was appointed in February this year. Asthana, however, has been transferred on central deputation.

It is also under Pinarayi rule that IPS officer Tomin Thachankary with a tainted track record has been appointed in key posts. After the government assumed power in May 2016, the first posting of Thanchankary was as ADGP headquarters in June 2017.

The VACB has filed a chargesheet against Thachankary in a case of amassing disproportionate assets to the tune of Rs 79 lakh. “How can it be expected from a Left government that an officer like Thachankary has been given plum posts,” a political critic asks.

The death of engineering student Jishnu Pranoy, the dragging his mother Mahija on the road when the family came to meet the DGP at the police headquarters in April 2017, moral policing incidents in the initial year of the government and the sensational Maoists hunt in the Nilambur forest have all put a black mark on the government’s image.

Noted political analyst and advocate A Jayasankar says that the prime and sole failure of the LDF government is the home portfolio.

“Most of the top posts in the police are filled by corrupt officers replacing efficient ones. Aluva Rural Superintendent of Police, PN Unnirajan was replaced with corrupt AV George. An officer who was suspended for taking bribe from murder convict Mohammed Nisham, was posted as superintendent of police Pathanamthitta. He replaced an upright officer Sankar Das. Thachankary has been posted at all key positions. And what capability Behera has as the head of the force?” he hits out.

‘Home department lacks accountability’

Veteran journalist and public activist BRP Bhaskar observed that the government lacked accountability. “When the first EMS government was in power VR Krishna Iyer was the Home Minister. He was replaced by C Achutha Menon for the police firing at a workers’ meeting at Chanthanathope in Kollam. Not because Krishna Iyer ordered the shooting, but that’s called constructive responsibility which makes a government accountable. At present, the police lapses have become a daily occurrence in Kerala and the concept of accountability is most ignored,” he says.

Bhaskar also pointed out that it was unexpected that someone like Pinarayi Vijayan, the longest serving party secretary of the CPI (M), is Home Minister.

“There was no one in the recent past in the history of the state with the same clout as a strong man to get things done, with a built-up image as a capable politician, Pinarayi assumed the post of Chief Minister. He was expected to have the strength to bring out changes. A change in the Home Department may be welcomed, it would serve as a good message. But for this to happen, Pinarayi has to admit that he has failed ,” he notes.

The party no more reins over the govt

When VS Achuthanandan was the Chief Minister, from 2006- 2011, the CPI (M) had reined over the government affairs. The current state Secretary of the CPI (M) Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was the Home Minister then. “At that time, even the cabinet agenda was decided a day in advance by the party. VS was rigidly controlled by the party. But at present, the party is in no more a position to rein in Pinarayi as he still enjoys the majority’s backing in the Kerala unit than that of the party secretary,” Bhaskar says.

Evaluating the LDF tenure, Jayasankar argues that barring law enforcement the government isn’t all that bad in other fronts. “Compared to the previous UDF government. there is almost no corruption at the political level. Pinarayi as a CM has command over the ministers and the ministers are hard working. In the Chandy government 20 ministers worked as 20 cabinets. But the failure of Home Department has outweighed the other achievements.”

“In UDF government, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan as a Home Minister acted promptly, assigned each case to the agencies or forces concerned, and hence maintained the balance. Chennithala, who replaced Thiruvanchoor, somehow maintained it till the end. Pinarayi has the misleading thought that if Home is taken away from him, his power is reduced. As a CM he has a lot of things to do, has nearly 30 major and minor departments to administer. Why can’t he give the Home portfolio to an efficient minister and concentrate on the CM’s job? If so the government would be one of the best in Kerala’s history,” Jayasankar observes.

Pinarayi, however, has so far not come up with any damage control steps other than issuing press statements, suspending or transferring officers. Behera in each incident would say “The accused will soon be arrested”. Pinarayi and his team of advisors overlooked questions on why the CM didn’t visit the home of victims like Sreejith or Jishnu and it is highly unlikely that he would call on Kevin’s family.

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