The #metoo movement gaining momentum and several progressive voices coming out in support of women, a woman police officer who filed a sexual harassment complaint against a senior police officer has been made to run from pillar to posts and has been pushed to a cliff by the perpetrator. Sadly, the judiciary has miserably failed the victim.
A SP level woman officer who was working in Tamil Nadu’s Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption in August 2018, filed a sexual harassment complaint against DVAC’s Joint Director Murugan IPS. In her complaint she stated that she has been continuously harassed by Murugan for quite some time and at one point of time, the harassment reached unbearable levels. In fact, she painfully narrated in her complaint that after calling her for a meeting inside his room, Murugan tried to force himself on her. Immediately after the incident, the woman officer filed a complaint to the Vigilance Director, DGP, and Home Secretary. Ironically, till then there was no set up of Vishaka Committee in the police department in violation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment of women in work places act and the judgment of the Supreme Court in Vishakha’s case.
Even after the officer filed a complaint, attempts were made to dissuade her from pursuing the complaint say sources. However, the victim was persistent that a probe should be conducted. In a kneejerk reaction the government formed a Internal Complaints Committee to probe the charges. And there was a catch. While both the Act and the Vishaka judgment stipulates that any such committee should have representatives from civil society or NGOs or women organisations, the committee formed by the state comprised officers from police department and a retired police officer. While Addl DGP Seema Agarwal was the Chairperson of the Committee, Addl DGP Arunachalam, DIG PC Thenmozhi, Ramesh, Administrative Officer in DGP’s office and Saraswathy, a retired DSP were the other members.
The Committee commenced its proceedings and summoned the victim for enquiry. The victim promptly wrote to the committee expressing dissatisfaction over the composition of the committee and expressed her inability to cooperate with the probe. Additional DGP Seema Agarwal, who was the chairperson of the committee fairly, transferred the complaint to Crime Branch CID. The CB.CID immediately registered a case on the complaint.
Murugan was booked by the CB-CID under Indian Penal Code Sections 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint), 354(Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), and 509(Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) read with Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998(whoever commits or participates or abets harassment of women in or within the precincts of any educational institution, temple or place of worship, bus stop, road, railway station, cinema theatre, park, beach, place of festival, public service vehicle or vessel or any other place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with a fine, which shall not be less than Rs.10,000).
Immediately after this development the government instead of transferring the perpetrator viz. Murugan IPS out of DVAC or transferring both Murugan and the victim, curiously transferred the victim out of DVAC. Murugan till date continues as Joint Director in the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption. It would not be out of place to mention that Murugan is probing the corruption charges against Edappadi Palanisamy and several of his cabinet colleagues. The Madras High Court which heard a plea for CBI probe against Edappadi Palanisamy, was scathing on the DVAC for not conducting the probe against Edappadi Palanisamy in accordance with law and trying to save him.
In the meanwhile, the victim challenged the composition of the committee by way of a Writ Petition in the Madras High Court. A single judge of the Madras High Court heard the matter and ordered notices to the state. While the matter was pending before the single Judge there were sudden developments.
The perpetrator Murugan filed writ petitions, challenging the Committee, for quash of FIR and with an interim prayer to stay all further proceedings. This should have been treated as a service matter and posted before a single Bench. Or rather this should have been posted before the single judge before whom, the victim’s matters were pending.
On 10thSeptember 2018, Murugan’s petitions were taken up by a Bench headed by Justice Huluvadi G.Ramesh of Madras High Court. Interestingly, Justice Huluvadi Ramesh was not sitting on 10thSeptember 2018 as he was on leave. The accompanying judge Justice Kalyanasundaram was sitting single on that date and he was hearing the cases as listed.
Justice Huluvadi G.Ramesh, came on a leave day, and took up Murugan’s petitions in his chambers along with Justice Kalyanasundaram. Interestingly, Murugan’s petitions were not even numbered. Justice Huluvadi Ramesh, on hearing that the Crime Branch CID has already registered a criminal case against Murugan, immediately issued a blanket stay on all further proceedings against Murugan.
In his anxiety to save Murugan, Justice Huluvadi Ramesh erroneously quoted section 10 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 and questioned why no attempts for reconciliation was taken up before resorting to registration of a criminal case or enquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee. Section 10 categorically states that “(1) The Internal Committee or, as the case may be, the Local Committee, may, before initiating an inquiry under Section 11 and at the request of the aggrieved womantake steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation. (emphasis supplied).
Here the victim has been pleading for a probe and never made any plea for reconciliation. How did Justice Huluvadi Ramesh found this clause applicable to the present case is perplexing. Justice Huluvadi Ramesh also issued a gag order to the media not to publish anything with regard to this case.
After this stay order was issued, the case never saw the light of the day. In November 2018, the SC collegium transferred Justice Huluvadi G Ramesh to Madhya Pradesh High Court. Huluvadi Ramesh who was the second Judge in Madras HC, was transferred to Madhya Pradesh HC as a third Judge.
After Huluvadi Ramesh was relieved, the plea of Murugan and the victim came up before Justices Vineet Kothari and Dr.Anitha Sumanth. The Bench, after perusing all records, saw through the nefarious designs of Murugan and how he manipulated the Registry and had his case listed. Stopping short of passing strictures against Justice Huluvadi Ramesh, the Bench was scathing in its order.
Relevant portions of the judgment are extracted below :
“In W.P.Nos.23292 and 23293 of 2018, the learned single Judge has passed an order on 07.09.2018 permitting the petitioner therein to implead the appropriate parties in the Writ Petition and posted the matter for further hearing on 11.09.2018 at the end of motion list. As far as W.P.No.23846 of 2018 is concerned, the matter was listed before the Division Bench on 29.10.2018. We are unable to fathom from the record how a writ petition in the ‘service category’, that should normally be listed before the learned single Judge holding the subject portfolio, came to be listed before the Division Bench without any order for clubbing of the same. Be that as it may, the case file of W.P.No.23846 of 2018 appears to have been misplaced thereafter and thus the record of hearing before the learned single judge is unavailable. The case-file has been re-constructed by the Registry pursuant to its request that was ordered only on 12.12.2018.
The un-numbered Writ Petition filed by Dr.S.Murugan in W.P.S.R.No.94430 of 2018 appears to have been listed ‘for maintainability’ vide supplementary list at 2.15 p.m. before the Court on 10.09.2018 and an order passed in the W.P.S.R. by the Bench directing the Registry to number W.P.S.R.No.94430 of 2018, if it was otherwise in order and list the same along with W.P.Nos.22533, 23292 and 23293 of 2018 pending before the Single Judge along with W.P.S.R.No.94430 of 2018, once numbered. W.P.No.22533 of 2018, the PIL, was also listed at 2.15 p.m. on the same date before the Bench along with connected W.M.Ps.
In fact, an objection has been raised by the Registry on 10.09.2018 to the maintainability of the writ petition filed by Dr.Murugan, and the listing of the same before the Division Bench. However, the Writ Petition in S.R. stage appears to have been listed before the Bench on the same day and interim directions issued by this Court prior to overruling of that office objection and numbering of the writ petition and listing of the same in regular course. The procedure followed, in regard to listing of cases and obtaining of interim orders at S.R. stage, appears mysterious, to say the least, apart from being irregular. The maintainability of the matters has thus not been adjudicated upon at all. Since W.P.Nos.23292, 23293 and 23846 of 2018 filed by xxxx (victim) and W.P.No.25213 of 2018 filed by Dr.Murugan and all connected miscellaneous petitions relate solely to matters concerning service of the petitioners therein, as seen from the prayers sought, we are not inclined to entertain these petitions, as apparently, they pertain to the jurisdiction of the single Judge.
In the aforesaid circumstances, the writ petitions filed by xxxx (victim) (W.P.Nos.23292, 23293 and 23846 of 2018) be transferred back to the file of the learned Single Judge after obtaining orders from the Hon’ble The Chief Justice and W.P.No.25213 of 2018 filed by Dr.S.Murugan also be placed before the Hon’ble Chief Justice for appropriate orders in regard to listing of the same.
The interim orders dated 10.09.2018 have been obtained in a writ petition and miscellaneous petitions that were yet unnumbered as on that date, pre-maturely, and upon an erroneous representation of the petitioner about the category of cases, connecting it to a PIL, which we have found not bonafide. We have also in the earlier paragraphs set out the manner in which the matters have been listed, concluding that all the remaining Writ Petitions, except W.P.No.22533 of 2018, which stands dismissed, ought to be placed before the Hon’ble Chief Justice to be placed before the appropriate Bench. “
Justice Kothari’s Bench, vacated all interim stay including the gag order.
As per the orders of the Division Bench, the matter was referred again to a single Judge and was posted before Justice Vimala. Justice Vimala was due to retire on 10thJanuary 2019. When the matter came up before Justice Vimala on 10thJanuary 2019, in spite of fervent plea by the victim’s counsel, went on to issue a stay order on the CB.CID investigation for “one day”, till she retired. Since the stay order is not vacated by another judge, the ‘one day stay order’ still continues.
Sources add that when the victim’s counsel mentioned the matter before another Judge before whom, it should come up for hearing, it was assured that the matter will be listed in a couple of days. The matter has not come up for hearing till date. Curiously, when the victim’s counsel approached the Registry to get the matter listed, she was informed that the connected bundles are “missing”.
The perpetrator Murugan is a very clever operator according to sources in police department. All along he has been in the habit of luring his female subordinates for sexual favours. However he is also in the habit of harassing women subordinates who fail to yield to him. Throughout his career, wherever he has served, there are tales of female subordinates being harassed. But none of the victims came forward to file a complaint against him, due to his huge clout and also fearing victimization. In police department, a senior officer can mar the career of a subordinate by giving poor ratings in Annual Confidential Reports, which would result in the subordinate being denied medal, overlooked in promotions which may consequently result in non-induction to IPS. There are many such tales which are confirmed by the victims to this author on condition of anonymity.
In 2009, Murugan worked as Superintendent of Police in the Anti-Corruption wing of the CBI, Chennai. The ACB, CBI, Chennai’s office is housed in Shastri Bhavan. The same building also houses the office of the Regional Passport Officer. One Sumathy Ravichandran, an Indian Postal Service officer was the RPO in 2009. Murugan drunk with power as CBI SP, made amorous advances to the Sumathy Ravichandran. His efforts were met with sharp reactions and sources say, Sumathy had cautioned Murugan that she would immediately file a complaint against him to senior officers. Murugan who can’t take a NO from his victims, hatched a conspiracy to implicate Sumathy in a false corruption case.
There is one more reason for Murugan’s anger against Sumathy Ravichandran. According to the Indian Passport Act, an All India Service Officer can issue a verification certificate for a passport applicant under TATKAL scheme. Based on the certificate of the All India Service officer the applicant can get the passport in a couple of days even without police verification. Sumathy Ravichandran came across several such recommendations by Murugan IPS. On enquiry it was found that Murugan was issuing such certificates for money. She wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs to blacklist Murugan. This too has incensed Murugan, add sources.
On 25 April 2009, headlines screamed that CBI busted a major passport racket. Passport Officer held in city for taking bribe, screamed the headlines. Selectively news was leaked by CBI, that a huge passport racket was busted by CBI and CBI SP Murugan was the one who cracked this racket. No one bothered to verify the veracity of CBI’s claims. No one bothered to question, how the RPO was trapped when she was not even available in the office when the alleged bribe was supposedly given. Her husband was also arrested in the same case. He was alleged to have engaged touts.
After Sumathy Ravichandran and her husband were arrested, a second FIR was registered against her for alleged possession of disproportionate assets. No one knew the fate of those cases.
On 26thDecember 2018, a Chennai CBI Court acquitted Sumathy Ravichandran and all the other accused persons. The Principal Special Judge was scathing in the role played by Murugan in foisting the false case. The relevant portion of the judgment is reproduced v below :
“The learned Counsel appearing for A.1 (Sumathy Ravichandran) argued that all these cases were registered one after another as a pattern of harassment against A.1 due to the animosity of then SP Murugan, CBI, ACB, Chennai.. The allegation of bias and malafices have been put forth in the bias petition sent by A.1 to the Director CBI and the petition was enquired at the level of Director and also the supervising agency of CBI, the CVC. Further he argued that A.1 submitted bias petition and the judgment copy of CC 37/2009 arose from RC 20/2009 (second case filed by Murugan) and the closure report arose from RC 67/2009 and the evidences deposed by the PW.74 and PW.75 are clinching circumstances to prefer the bias malafide against A.1. Therefore all the cases are registered against A.1 to harass her by animnosity of the then SP Murugan, CBI, ACB.
PW.74 the Investigating Officer of this case during his cross examination deposed that “I do not remember who has registered crime No, 20 of 2009 on the file of CBI/Chennai against A.1 and another person. I conducted investigation in RC 20 of 2009. No Preliminary Enquiry (PE) was conducted as far as my knowledge goes before registration of RC 20 of 2009 by me. The allegation of RC 20 of 2009 was that A.1 in this present case abused her official position and obtained illegal gratification. The allegation in RC 20 of 2009 and present case are diferent: During the cross examination of PW.74 the certified copy of deposition, who was examined as PW.5 in CC 37 / 2011 in RC 20/2009 was marked as D.3. n perusal of D.3 on the basis of the complaint of Lakshmanan and my verification report, a case in RC 20/2009 was registered by N.Krishnamurthy. The FIR was registered against Sumathi Ravichandran, the then RPO and Fathima Muzaffer Ahamed u/s 8 of PC Act and 120-B IPC. SB Shankar was the trap laying officer. But in his evidence, he has denied that trap was conducted by him. Further in the cross, PW.74 deposed that he deny the suggestion that the investigation was carried ouyt at the malafide instance of SP S.Murugan, the then SP, CBI, ACB, Chennai. On persal of D.3 he admitted tat SP Murugan made endorsement in the FIR of 20 of 2009 which cannot be denied by PW.74.
During the house search at the house of A.1 (Sumathy Ravichandran) PW.2 Sub-Divisional Engineer BSNL was one of the witness and during his cross he admitted the presence of SP Murugan. He deposed that “I went to the house of A.1 Sumathy Ravichandran at 6.30 to 6.45 pm. I stayed till 7 am. Till this time, Murugan was with us. But I do not know the designation of Murugan. I did not ask the designation of Murugan.
The Investigating Officer who laid the charge sheet was examined as PW.75.. During his cross examination he stated that “I am not aware of the letter dated 24.02.2011 sent by A.1 to Director CBI stating that the entire prosecution is actuated by malafides on the part of SP Murugan and Muruga is causing harassment to her and her family by foisting one case after another”.
During the pendency of RC 20 of 2009 and RC 21 of 2009 SP Murugan registered another case against A.1 (Sumathy Ravichandran) and her husband in RC 67/2009 under section 109 IPC and Sec 13 (2) r/w 13 (1) (e) of Prevention of Corruption Act. This FIR was registered by Murugan, SP, CBI, ACB on 23.12.2009 and the said FIR was closed on 907.10.2010. PW.75 in his cross examination deposed that “I do not remember who has registered the disproportionate assets case against A.1. I deny the suggestion that SP Murugan registered the disproportionate assets case due to malafides. I have investigated the DA case and no disproportionate assets were available with A.1 and I closed the FIR”. This answer of PW.75 is contradictory one. In RC 67/2009 the IO who investigated the case filed the closure report. It is a clear mockery to say that the IO has no knowledge about who registered FIR in RC 67/2009. (emphasis supplied)
Without perusing the FIR in RC 67/2009 PW.75 filed closure report creates serious doubt on the part of PW.75’s conduct. Further on the perusal of the case records it does not contain the name of the SP who sought for the sanction from the competent authority. The prosecution has not produced any copy of sanction seeking letter written by SP, ACB, CBI, Chennai. PW.75 in his cross deposed that “In the case diary, the copy of the letter which is seeking for sanction is also not available. I deny the suggestion that the then SP Murugan who sought for sanction of A.1 was having malafide intention against A.1, hence the copy of the letter is not available in case diary.” PW.74 was engaged in RC 20/2009 as Trap Laying Officer. But he deposed that he was the investigating officer. Both PWs 74 and 75 intentionally and wantonly suppressed and concealed the involvement of SP Murugan in registering the case against A.1 and her family.In Ex P.19 the instructions of SP (Murugan) are available to the effect to register a trap and investigate. Further evidence of PW.2 clearly proved that at the time of house search of A.1’s residence SP Murugan also accompanied the CBI party. This clearly shows the malafide intention of the then SP (Murugan) towards A.1 Sumathi Ravichandran. PWs 74 and 75 attempted to conceal the involvement of SP Murugan. They cannot shield the said SP Murugan against the proved circumstances in this case and other cases.(emphasis supplied)
On the perusal of the closure report in RC 67/2009 (disproportionate case), this case was registered by the then SP Murugan. At the time of search of A.1’s residence, the said SP Murugan’s presence was deposed by PW.2 creates strong suspicions on SP Murugan. The said SP Murugan directly and indirectly influenced the CBI officials to launch many more cases against A.1. Further PW.75’s evidence shows the non-mentioning the name in the FIR in RC 67/2009. On perusal of oral evidences of PWs 74 and 75 and the registration of case in RC 67/2009 by then SP Murugan clearly shows the bias and malafide action against A.1 Sumathy Ravichandran. Only because of his bias and malafide against A.1 the then SP Murugan out of animosity registered one case after another. The prosecution has wantonly suppressed the involvement of the then SP Murugan. So the arguments advanced by the learned counsel for A.1 is accepted and I am of the view that this case was registered by CBI only on bias and malafide intention of the then SP Murugan against A.1 (Sumathy Ravichandran).
This is the operative portion of the judgment in CC No. 29 of 2011 dated 26thDecember 2018 of the Principal Sessions Court for CBI cases.
This is the scoundrel which the Madras High Court judges are too eager to protect and save. Filing of a sexual harassment complaint always comes with its own stigma. Though the victim’s name is not revealed publicly, the department where she works always knows about the complaint and it will always set tongues wagging. People always come up with opinion and advises to the victim as to how she should behave, etc. But here is a victim, who has overcome the stigma and has faced the odds to find justice. But the judiciary is making her run from pillar to posts. The Chief Justice of Madras High Court, being a woman has also turned a Nelson’s eye to the victim’s plight and is allowing this façade by the judges to continue.
Naxalites do not believe in democracy and call this democracy and judicial system a farce. They say that these institutions do not provide justice to the victims and the system always sides with the rich and the mighty.
Aren’t they right ?