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The Madras High Court today ordered that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the investigation into the police firing which took place in Thoothukudi last May.
The firing occurred during protests conducted against the expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelting plant, and eventually lead to the death of thirteen civilians.
In the immediate aftermath of the Thoothukudi firing, the Madras High Court stayed the proposed expansion of the copper plant. Following the incident, multiple petitions were filed in both the principal bench and the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, protesting police excesses during and after the firing and irregularities during the police investigation.
The Bench of Justices CT Selvam and AM Basheer Ahamed today allowed the plea for a CBI inquiry, after observing that the events leading up to the firing and the process that followed were rife with irregularities. Inter alia, the Bench asked,
“How self-loading rifles found their way out of the armoury and came to be used in shooting dead persons, how the snipers were perched atop vehicles and how persons came to be shot in the face and chest, all are questions that cry for an answer.”
Another notable concern raised by the Bench was the apparent reluctance of the authorities to register cases against police officials for the alleged delinquent acts.
“The case of the petitioners is that the State/police and other authorities are guilty of murder. We fail to understand how not a single case, not even invoking Section 174 Cr.P.C., has been registered at the instance of the injured/family members of the deceased. The truth or otherwise of the allegation is a matter for investigation. An investigation cannot be altogether avoided.”
In this backdrop, the Court remarked.
“The State has much to answer.“
Given these concerns, the Court proceeded to transfer the case to the CBI.
“Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. It can hardly be expected that any investigation, either into the wrong doings of the protesters or of the Administration/Police, would inspire confidence if entrusted to agencies of this State.
…It is no secret that the Honourable First Bench of this Court had raised a question of why the investigation should not be handed over to the CBI. We on independent consideration and for reasons aforesaid would affirm such opinion.“
The CBI has been directed to complete the investigation within four months. The Director of the CBI has been ordered to constitute a special team to carry out the investigation.
Before parting with the case, the Court also directed the modification of Police Order no. 703, which deals with the protocol to be adopted when police firing is resorted to.
Apart from claims that the said protocol was not followed, the Court also noted that the Order in its current form does not, by itself, provide any assurance that similar incidents will not take place in the future. Therefore, the Court has directed that it be appropriately modified, keeping in mind the International Standards for the Use of Force and Firearms as per the United Nations Guidelines.
Furthermore, the Court emphasised that International guidelines be followed before resorting to the suspension of telecom services during such events.
By another order passed today, the Court has also set as aside the detention of six more protestors under the National Security Act, 1980. This development comes close on the heels of another order passed earlier this month, where the same Bench quashed multiple FIRs filed by the police against the Thoothukudi protestors after concluding that the same amounted to an abuse of statutory powers.