Web posted at: 9/2/2006
Source ::: THE PENINSULA, By John Mary
Thiruvananthapuram • Kerala High Court has appointed a retired judge to probe the unabated custodial deaths in the state and submit a report within three months.
Declining a public litigant’s plea to spare a sitting judge for the probe, the Division Bench of Chief Justice V K Bali and Justice M Ramachandran directed the government to extend all co-operation to retired Justice R Rajendra Babu in the investigation.
The direction came on a public interest litigation (PIL) demanding that the court order a high-level investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the custodial deaths. The bench said it couldn’t spare a sitting judge owing to work pressure and shortage of judges.
The state government told the court that it wanted to reassure the public that law enforcement would not amount to persecution.
The state has witnessed more than 15 such deaths since the new Left Democratic Front (LDF) rode to power on a massive popularity wave in the May elections, winning 100 seats in the 140-member Assembly.
The Congress, vanquished and demoralised, took time, settling down in the Opposition. But the spate of deaths prompted a dawn-to-dusk sit-in in front of the government secretariat here on August 16, demanding a judicial probe.
Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and senior police officials maintain that these are not lockup cases but stemming from physical conditions of those being apprehended or detained for interrogation.
Several detainees had died during interrogation, others while being taken to court and others at the very instance of the police apprehending them. Some of them had been involved in minor offences. But sensing the mood of the public, the state government had ordered the suspension of several policemen and officers.
State Human Rights Commission member, Prof S Varghese, said in New Delhi yesterday that the ways of the police had not changed despite the change of government. He said the police had to be given proper orientation to make them real friends of the people. He planned to organise an awareness camp for the police soon.
Recurring custodial deaths are more just an embarrassment to the Left Front that came to power three months ago on a high-decibel campaign against Congress regime’s track record, “nearly 200 custodial deaths” in 2001-06.
Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, former Opposition stalwart is a much mellowed man in the garb of the Home Minister. Desperate to arrest the trend, he vowed to amendment to the Police Act, making Station House Officers responsible for custodial deaths and mandating a probe by the district magistrate in each case.