Sathankulam Custodial Deaths: Madras HC asks CBI to file status report in sealed cover

Appearing for the CBI today, ASG Kathirvel informed that the report can be filed in 10 days.
 Jeyaraj (L) and his son Bennix (R) died while in the custody of the Sathankulam Police following their arrest on June 19 citing a violation of the COVID-19 curfew
Jeyaraj (L) and his son Bennix (R) died while in the custody of the Sathankulam Police following their arrest on June 19 citing a violation of the COVID-19 curfew

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court today directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to hand over a status report on the progress in the Sathankulam custodial deaths case investigation (Registrar General (Judicial), Madurai Bench of Madras High Court v. State of Tamil Nadu and ors).

The Court has asked for this report to be submitted in a sealed cover.

The suo motu case registered by the Madras High Court in the case was taken up this evening by a Bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and P Rajamanickam.

Appearing for the State today, Additional Advocate General Chellapandian informed the Court that the status report asked for in the last hearing has been submitted. The Court acknowledged that it has recieved the same, and in a sealed cover.

AAG Chellapandian added that the CB CID had made significant progress in the case, making 10 arrests in a short span of time.

Appearing for the CBI, ASG Kathirvel told the Court that a status report regarding the CBI's investigation in the case can be submitted within 10 days.

During the hearing today, the Court was also informed that 7 of the CBI officers who had come to Tamil Nadu for the case investigation have tested positive for COVID-19 and that they are presently undergoing treatment.

This apart, the hearing today also saw connecting pleas being mentioned by other counsel. The Court was informed that an impleadment petition has been filed in the matter by the wife of Jayaraj, also the mother of Bennix i.e. the father-son duo who had died in police custody after the alleged police brutality.

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The Court was told that the impleading plea was yet to be numbered, and that it sought for the completition of the investigation within three months.

"How can we issue such a direction?", the Court asked, pointing out that if the investigation is hurried, it is the quality of the investigation that would suffer.

"Normally, we cannot pass such a direction Ultimately, the casualty would be the investigation. Ultimately, you also know who will get the benefit. The parties may not be aware of the legal position. Being the counsel, you should assist... ", the Bench observed.

Appearing for the People's Watch, Advocate Henri Tiphagne told the Court that his plea raises certain concerns in the larger public interest, including that aspect of there being no protocol in place for the preservation of CCTV footage.

A third plea was mentioned by another counsel with certain prayers including the need for guidelines in medical examinations.

Taking note of the numerous petitions being filed over the matter, the Bench reiterated its appeal that the case should not be pursued for the sake of publicity. It pointed out that such a request has already been made to the media as well.

"We have bluntly put it across, it should not be for publicity. We also requested visual and print media not to do so. Give the investigation a fair space so they can do their job", the Court said.
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Responding to the plea for more guidelines, the Court also pointed out that the problem had less to do with the availability of law and more to do at the stage of implementation.

"For each eventuality, there is a law. The only difficulty is the overseeing mechanism or the implementing mechanism", Justice Sathyanarayanan observed.

The Court will now take up the case next on August 17. The Court informed that it will take up the suo motu case, as well as connected pleas.

A contempt case initiated against three police officers for obstructing the judicial probe into the Sathankulam case was also adjourned today.

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The Sathankulam custodial deaths case involves allegations of police brutality, a mechanical remand by the judicial magistrate and inadequate medical treatment leading to the death of Jayaraj and Bennix while in police custody.

The two were arrested on June 19 citing a violation of the COVID-19 curfew. A judicial inquiry into their deaths, under Section 176, CrPC, is being conducted by the Judicial Magistrate No. 1, Kovilpatti.

The investigation was earlier being handled by the CB CID until the CBI took over the probe earlier this month.

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