In an unprecedented turn of events, the media-savvy Idol Wing chief is facing an open rebellion from within, and his own IPS colleagues allege that he is not as honest he claims to be.

Idol Wing rebellion Officers dissent old cases haunt Pon ManickavelScreenshot from YouTube/Thandora
news Idol Theft Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 16:45

On December 18, 2018, in an unprecedented move, 15 officers of the Idol Wing met the Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu with an unusual complaint. Their gripe: their former chief and newly-appointed Special Officer of the Idol Wing, IG Pon Manickavel, is reportedly forcing them to foist cases on his personal and professional foes. A day later, two ADSPs and others working with the Idol Wing submitted similar complaints of their own and addressed a press conference outside the police headquarters.

The move sent shockwaves across a state that has largely known IG Pon Manickavel to have been instrumental in busting open idol smuggling networks operating in Tamil Nadu. It is on account of this goodwill that the Madras High Court came to his rescue, not once, but twice - first, in June 2017, when it set aside his transfer and recommended that he head a special team for completion of trial of all pending idol theft cases, and for the second time in November 2018, when the court appointed him Special Officer, on the day he was set to retire.

Speaking to the press in Chennai on Wednesday, ADSP Elango alleged that no arrests had taken place in the pending cases that the Special Team was mandated to investigate.

"The High Court appointed investigation team is headed by IG Pon Manickavel. I am second-in-command. There are five ADSPs, 5 DSPs, 17 inspectors, 27 sub-inspectors, and 136 constables. We have been ordered to investigate 333 pending idol theft cases from June 2017. In the past one year, none of us have been able to investigate without pressure. No accused have been arrested. No statues have been recovered," he said.

ADSP Kumar, the Investigating Officer in the theft of nearly 100 bronze idols at the Pandanallur Sri Pasupatheeswarar temple complex in Thanjavur said that he was forced to arrest accused persons without sufficient evidence.

“I told him (Pon Manickavel) that we cannot arrest without sufficient evidence. He threatened me saying he would suspend me and report me. At that time, he cornered me and made me remand the accused. Almost one year I went on medical leave because of that. Because I could no longer work with him,” he said.

‘Forcing us to foist cases’

Over 20 complaint petitions were submitted to the DGP, one of them reads, “I am doing my criminal investigations diligently. The senior officer of the Idol Wing is forcing us to add to the case, enemies who are unrelated to the case. This is causing fear and stress to me and prevents me from doing my job.”

In another letter, accessed by TNM, an SP-rank officer requests to be transferred to his home district in north-eastern Tamil Nadu, on account of the mental agony he is forced to face while carrying out his duties.

With allegations flying thick and fast against the media-savvy officer, the drama was not over just yet. On Tuesday evening, DGP TK Rajendran’s office sent a press release to the media, acknowledging the officers’ complaint against Pon Manickavel.

“On December 18, an Additional Superintendent of Police (ADSP), a Deputy Superintendent of Police(DSP), 4 Inspectors and 6 special Sub-Inspectors and one head constable met the Director General of Police in person in Chennai and gave a complaint petition about Idol Wing Special Officer Pon Manickavel, IPS. In the petition, they said the Special Officer forces them to book cases and conduct investigations in contravention to the law, without relevant documents or necessary evidence. In addition to this, they said that those who did not give into the Special Officer's pressures were scolded and threatened. Thus, they have requested a job transfer and submitted a petition to this effect. Appropriate action would be recommended on these petitions,” the statement to the press said. This has left many wondering if the officers are speaking out against the IG with the DGP’s blessing.

Long time coming

For those who have been watching the actions of Pon Manickavel closely over the years, Tuesday’s spectacle is merely the tip of the iceberg. There have long been murmurs in police circles about the officer’s conduct.

In November this year, a letter sent to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary alleges misdeeds and malpractices by IG Pon Manickavel. The letter sent by Vinoth Kumar, a lawyer at the Madras High Court, to the Chief Secretary, Home Secretary and the Advocate General of the state makes seven startling allegations against IG Pon Manickavel and his conduct over the years. The letter alleges that Pon Manickavel misappropriated ‘case properties’ in 1997 when he was serving as Additional Deputy Superintendent of Police Special Branch, Chengalpattu East.

The murder-for-gain case in question relates to the death of one Lilly Fernandes in 1997, a woman in Mugalivakkam who was reportedly killed by three men for her gold and diamond jewellery. Pon Manickavel, along with a sub inspector, is accused of pocketing a portion of the recovered jewels. Alleging that Pon Manickavel attempted to scuttle the case in 2001 when he took over as Superintendent of Police in the same jurisdiction where the case was registered, the letter says, “Within one week of his joining SP, he got this case referred as undetectable. The sessions court acquitted the case of murder for gain on the ground that the properties recovered were not produced before the court.”(sic)

While inquiries by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption(DVAC) and CBCID recommended departmental action for ‘gross violations’, KN Nehru, then Minister for Transport in the DMK government intervened to help elevate Pon Manickavel as DIG, the letter alleges.

Apart from these, other allegations against the officer include misconduct in dealings with Sri Lankan refugees when he served as DSP Rameshwaram and ‘collecting mamool’ from prohibition offenders and gamblers when he served as DSP Poonamallee.

Time for reckoning?

Senior officers in the police department have also approached reporters to draw attention to these past cases against Pon Manickavel; however, they are not willing to come out in open with their views. Speaking to TNM, Vinoth Kumar, who claims to be speaking on behalf of colleagues and subordinates of Pon Manickavel says that they fear for their lives.

“Colleagues and subordinates of Pon Manickavel have been under great mental stress because of him for years together. I am fighting on their behalf because they are scared to speak out. I am ready to prove these allegations in court. We are not asking for any fresh cases against the IG. We are only asking for pending cases with the CBCID and Chief Secretary to be re-opened and investigated. Had he retired at least, more officers would have had the courage to come forward with proof and speak up. With his new stint and political backing, many would be affected.”

While IG Pon Manickavel has maintained a public profile for many years, the allegations against him have only just begun to appear. Speaking to TNM, police sources say that Pon Manickavel’s appointment as Special Officer and the subsequent media celebration of the officer has prompted the backlash against him to come to the fore.

Just days ago, the arrest of N Thirumagal, an Additional Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) had come under the scanner. Many had questioned the need to arrest the officer, who is known to cooperate with investigations. Previously too, the Madras High Court had questioned Pon Manickavel on the haste with which he had arrested Kavitha, another Additional Commissioner of the HR&CE Department.

The November 2018 letter alleges that Kavitha too is the victim of a false case foisted by the Special Officer.

“There are two politically-backed lobbies in the police department, for and against Pon Manickavel, each with its own view on him. The Madras High Court coming to his rescue and appointing him as Special Officer was the last straw for those opposing him. They believe it’s time to expose some of the complaints against him,” said one senior police officer.

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