On Wednesday, the Madras High Court transferred the investigation against an IG-rank police officer in Tamil Nadu in the sexual harassment case filed by a woman SP to the Telangana police. The transfer came after the complainant alleged that the accused officer was influencing the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of the department.
The survivor, a Tamil Nadu woman Superintendent of Police, had in August 2018 accused S Murugan IPS, the then Joint Director in the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), of sexually harassing her. It was after she filed a complaint that the Tamil Nadu police set up an Internal Committee in accordance with the provisions of the Vishakha guidelines under the leadership of Lakshmi Prasad, a DGP-level officer.
âNecessary for fair, unbiased trialâ
In its order on Wednesday, the court stated that the complainant had also expressed doubt over getting justice since the Chairperson of the Committee had allegedly called her over phone and urged her to âtreat the incident as an accident and to forget itâ.
âIt was alleged that the Chair Person is shielding the accused along with the law officers of the State. The learned counsel submitted that corruption cases against the Honâble Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister, Thiru S.P. Velumani, Honâble Minister and Thiru. Natham Viswanathan, former Minister, are now pending before the accused and as such, the complainant would not get justice,â the order stated adding that therefore the complainant sought the court to monitor the probe or transfer it to Kerala police.
While Murugan objected stating that there were no substantial reasons to transfer the case out of Tamil Nadu, the Advocate General of Tamil Nadu objected to the transfer claiming that the image of the state would be adversely affected because of this.
However, the high court bench consisting of Justice Vineet Kothari and Justice CV Karthikeyan stood their ground and stated that it was necessary to transfer the case to a neighbouring state to ensure a âfair, independent and unbiased investigation into the matterâ.
The direction to transfer a case that is in the investigation stage has raised eyebrows across the state since it is quite rare that a case, confined to Tamil Nadu, is being shifted to another state.
Senior journalist and lawyer A Subramani said that transferring a case in the investigation stage is very rare. âAfter the chargesheet is filed, trials are usually transferred,â he pointed out with examples of the murder of former Tamil Nadu minister Tha Kiruttinan in 2003 in which MK Alagiri was the main accused (the case was transferred to Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh; Alagiri was acquitted in 2008 due to lack of evidence) and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaaâs disproportionate assets case (transferred to Bengaluru; she was convicted in the case a few months after she passed away).
âWill instil confidence in the minds of publicâ
Former Additional Solicitor General of India and present Rajya Sabha MP from DMK P Wilson said that this action by the court was a welcome decision. âThe allegations against this police officer are so severe that it pricks everyoneâs conscience. He is someone holding a high position in the police department,â he told TNM, adding that transferring the case outside Tamil Nadu will instil confidence in the minds of the public. However, he expressed doubts over the High Courtâs jurisdiction to transfer the investigation of a case out of the state.
âNormally this power is not available to the High Court under article 226 of the Constitution. But similar powers can be exercised by the Supreme Court under article 32 in the interest of justice or under section 406 (Power of Supreme Court to transfer cases and appeals) of the CrPC,â he explained. In the case under question, Wilson pointed out, though the intention of the complainant is to get the case transferred, the right way is to approach the Supreme Court and not the High Court.
âI donât know whether the request of the High Court will be accepted by the Chief Secretary of Telangana. But the only thing is that the case will now be taken away from the hands of the Tamil Nadu police,â he said.
Human rights lawyer Sudha Ramalingam also expressed a similar opinion on the High Courtâs direction. Speaking to TNM, she said, âExtraordinary circumstances lead to extraordinary orders. This is a case in which the complainant â the survivor â has implicated some of the most powerful people in the state.â
Pointing out that the transfer will give confidence to the complainant that the probe will be unbiased, Sudha said, âThese are not cases where the precedents are thought about. The court would have thought only about providing justice to the survivor.â
âNo basis for transferring probeâ
However, according to former Additional Director General of Police (Prisons) R Nataraj, the High Courtâs order will set a wrong precedent and encourage people to file petitions in the High Court seeking transfers. âI donât think this is right. Tamil Nadu police is one of the most efficient in the country. Law and order is a state subject, a direction to the DGP could have been issued to make sure the investigation is impartial and proper action is taken,â he said.
Adding that there was no basis to how the court chose Telangana to transfer the case to, Nataraj said, âEverything (related to the case) must happen within the state and that is how it is. Otherwise it is a question of why such a case cannot be sent to the FBI or Scotland Yard.â