A year ago, on the intervening night of August 3 and 4, Kerala journalist KM Basheer did not realise it would be his last few moments when he parked his two-wheeler on the roadside, in Thiruvananthapuram. Around 1 am on August 4, a high-speeding car rammed into his vehicle. He died before he was taken to the hospital. It has been a year since his death, and there has been no justice rendered to his family.
Six months after Basheer’s death, the police submitted the chargesheet. However, the trial has not commenced yet. What is even shocking is that the person accused of drunk-driving the car and causing Basheer’s death, IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman, is back in service. While the CCTV footage proved that the car was moving at a high speed, it is yet to be ascertained if Sriram was driving the car at the time of the accident or was it his friend and co-passenger, Wafa Firoz.
Although eyewitnesses said that Sriram was behind the wheel and was in an inebriated state when he stepped out of the car, there was a major lapse in initiating the immediate legal proceedings, which eventually weakened the case. The charge against Sriram is culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which would hold only if it is proved that Basheer’s death was a case of drunk driving.
On the night of the incident, Sriram and Wafa were returning from a party in the Kowdiar area. Basheer, who was the Thiruvananthapuram bureau chief of regional daily Siraj, had parked his two-wheeler on the roadside near the Museum Junction, right outside Public Office Complex. He was talking on the phone when the car rammed into his vehicle, which then smashed into the compound wall of the Public Office building.
According to reports, the car was driven at a speed of 98 kilometres per hour.
The series of events that followed turned his death into a controversial case. There were allegations that police had extended all support to save the IAS officer from the case.
A few minutes after the accident, two officers from the Museum police station, which is just 100 metres away from the Public Office building, turned up at the spot. Although an ambulance took Basheer to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, he was brought dead. While Wafa was allowed to leave in an autorickshaw (as there was no female police officer to accompany her at the time), Sriram was taken to the General Hospital in Vanchiyoor.
Although the preliminary report noted ‘alcohol smell - positive’, Sriram’s blood samples were not taken for testing. Neither the duty doctor nor the Sub Inspector who took Sriram to the hospital insisted on the test. After more than eight hours, his blood was taken for testing. However, by then, his blood did not have any trace of ethyl alcohol.
Sriram did not go to jail even for a day as he stayed in the hospital until he got bail. Doctors had certified that he was seriously ill and had retrograde amnesia, due to which he was unable to recall some events.
Meanwhile, Sriram stated that Wafa drove the car, although she denied it. Eyewitnesses had also given statements that it was Sriram who was there in the driving seat.
A special investigation team (SIT) of the Crime Branch was set up to investigate the case. While Sriram is named the first accused, Wafa is the second accused in the case.
In February 2020, the chargesheet was filed under sections 304, 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of the offence, or giving false information to screen offender) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as section 201 (driving dangerously), 185 (driving by drunken person) and 188 (punishment for abetment of certain offences) of the Motor Vehicles Act.
Sriram, who was the director at the Department of Survey and Land Records at the time of the accident, was suspended later.
Incidentally, Basheer’s phone went missing after the accident and reportedly, it is yet to be found.
In January, an official committee headed by then Chief Secretary Tom Jose had recommended the state government to reinstate Sriram, although Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rejected it. But, two months later, he was reinstated into the service.
Recently, Sriram was taken back into the service, seven months after his suspension, amidst massive criticisms. He joined the Health Department as the joint secretary. However, the government clarified that Sriram, who is also a doctor, is aware of public health and his services will be useful at the time of COVID-19.
Basheer's wife Jaseela was given a job by Kerala government. She was appointed as a university assistant at Tirur Thunjathezhuthachan Malayalam university. The state government had also given an amount of Rs 6 lakh to the family as a relief.
Both Sriram and Wafa failed to appear before the chief judicial magistrate court in Thiruvananthapuram in February. The accused have been asked to appear before the court on September 16.