A probe by an IAS officer has unearthed CCTV footage that showed three suspects enter a police station in the Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu in March 2023 without any injuries on their faces, and emerge from the station a few hours later with grievous injuries. The probe has found prima facie visual and other corroborating evidence of custodial torture by Balveer Singh IPS and his team. Senior IAS officer P Amudha led the probe, which looked at accusations that Balveer Singh, then Ambasamudram Assistant Superintendent of Police, used various torture methods including tooth extraction of suspects.
The report, which was released to families of the victims based on a court order, came to limelight after the state government's recent reinstatement of Balveer Singh sparked outrage.
In Kalladaikurichi police station, the committee perused CCTV footage from eight cameras that were installed at the police station. The custodial torture victims – Laksmi Sankar, Subash, and Venkatesh – were brought to the police station around 9.50 am on March 23, 2023. The report specifically states that the three did not have any injuries on their faces, which was substantiated by a witness. Balveer Singh, Sub Inspector Abraham Joseph, gunman Saddam, writer Sudalai, and constable Parvathy were present at the station.
According to the report, ASP Balveer Singh could be heard telling his team to remove the clothes of the suspects as they were entering the station. He then questioned the suspects and was heard saying, “Gang irukka, new gang irukka” (do you have a gang, is it a new one?). Later, Balveer Singh threatened the suspects and asked them to remove their shirts. Sudalai was heard saying, “Baniyan kalatu da dai…Inga podu” (Remove your inner vest and throw it here).
The victims were then taken to the first floor for questioning at 9.55 am where CCTV cameras were not installed. Balveer Singh and his team members – Padmanabhan, Deewansh, Sheikh Barid, Mohammed Bashir– along with Saddam – could also be seen accompanying them.
After 10 minutes, while Balveer Singh and Saddam were leaving the police station, a constable at the reception could be heard saying “Pallu pudungitaaru ya,” (teeth has been removed) to a man standing next to him. From one of the CCTV footage, Saddam can be seen placing the lathi and a rectangular pouch in the ASP’s vehicle. Balveer, before leaving the station, could also be seen as trying to clear something from his shirt and trousers.
At around 2.31 pm, Balveer Singh returned to the station. Saddam was heard telling Balveer that the DIG wanted to meet him in his office. The ASP then left for the DIG office at 3.05 pm.
At around 3.40 pm, Lakshmi Sankar, Subhash, and Venkatesh were brought to the ground floor. As per the CCTV footage, all three of them had sustained injuries in their teeth. They were taken to Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital for treatment and medical reports showed that they had sustained “grievous” teeth injury.
Coming down heavily on Balveer Singh, the probe report questioned the contradiction in time recorded as 11 am in the General Diary while the CCTV footage showed the suspects were brought to the station at 9.45 am. The police team were asked why a private vehicle was used to transport the suspects and why the pickup details were not recorded in any of the case records. “Why were the accused taken to the first floor after removing their clothes, where there is no CCTV? Why were they kept on the first floor till 3.40 pm?” the probe report asked.
The report also mentioned that it was obvious other senior officers were aware of the incident on March 23, 2023.
The probe also found that the allegations by a man named Surya, that he was tortured by Balveer and team on March 20 at Kalladaikurichi police station, was true. “He earlier gave a statement before the sub collector denying any assault by the ASP or police due to coercion by police and influence and pressure from community leader Muthukrishnan. From his detailed statement and submissions made by his wife and mother-in-law during the video call, it prima-facie appears that the incident of the assault and torture by ASP and other police personnel at Kalladaikurichi police station on March 20, 2023, appears to be true. Further investigation is needed to bring out the complete truth after filing a criminal case," the report said. Surya had been apprehended by the police for breaking a CCTV camera, and he later revealed that he was asked to pay Rs 45,000 for eight new cameras in exchange for his release.
Torture in Ambasamudram and VK Puram police stations
The probe was ordered in 2023 after Balveer Singh and his team were accused of torturing suspects, including minors, and removing their teeth using pliers, at the Kalladaikurchi police station, Ambasamudram police station, and VK Puram police station. All three police stations come under the Ambasamudram sub division.
The probe officer checked footage from four CCTV cameras in Ambasamudram police station. As many as eight custodial torture victims, including two minors, gave statements about how they were subjected to cruelty by ASP Balveer Singh and other police personnel in Ambasamudram police station and VK Puram police station on March 10, 2023.
Vedanarayanan, an auto driver who was booked for public nuisance, alleged that the ASP tortured him in custody on March 23. He was apprehended over a case of domestic dispute, after his wife filed a complaint with the ASP. The probe report said no relevant CCTV footage could be obtained as the Inquiry Officer informed that the camera and hard disk at the VK Puram police station was dysfunctional for a long time.
However, the report notes that a conversation between Special Branch Criminal Intelligence Department (SBCID) Rajkumar and Anti Land Grabbing Cell (ALGC) DSP at Kallidaikurichi police station mentioned the removal of teeth of a suspect in a case related to family dispute.
“From the statements given by Vedanarayanan to Inquiry Officer and Sub Collector and from police witnesses, it is clear that the complainant was taken to the VK Puram PS and ASP personally enquired the complainant. It prime-facie appears that the incident of assault and torture by ASP and other police personnel at Ambasamudram police station on March 23, 2023 is true. Further detailed investigation needs to be ordered to bring out the complete truth after filing of a Criminal case," the probe concluded.
The high-level inquiry, in its report submitted on April 19, 2023, recommended the state government to transfer the case to CB-CID immediately for a full-fledged investigation against Balveer Singh so that the complete truth can be unearthed. It also said that all police officials implicated in the case should be transferred immediately for a free and fair investigation. The report also called for action against Public Prosecutor Tirumalaikumar for aiding the police officials to cover up the torture at Kallidaikurichi police station.
The IAS officer also sought action against Ambasamudram GH medical officer Dr Jaishankar for not recording the injuries sustained by six persons and issuing fitness certificates to them. As per the report, safety, protection, free legal assistance, and lawyer support must be arranged for the victims.
The Tamil Nadu state government had appointed Rural Development Department Principal Secretary P Amudha as the head of the committee to investigate the custodial torture cases in April 2023. She was directed to submit a report within a month. Amudha conducted inquiries with Tirunelveli district collector KP Karthikeyan and Cheranmahadevi Sub-Collector Mohamed Shabbir Alam. The report mentioned all of them had found prima facie evidence against Balveer Singh and his team in the custodial torture cases.
Despite these findings, Balveer Singh’s suspension was revoked and he was reinstated back into service recently.