Crisis after crisis facing the Tamil Nadu has exposed the lack of leadership qualities of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy. An accidental Chief Minister, Edappadi Palanisamy is fumbling every day to handle the administration Tamil Nadu. Day by day, his problems are mounting manifold but EPS remains clueless in his La La land.
Edappadi Palanisamy’s inefficiency in the administration is being witnessed by the state in his handling of the Covid19 pandemic in the state for the past few months. As pointed out by author in his previous column, EPS is unable to control none of his cabinet colleagues and is being swayed by one and all.
The Thoothukudi double murder in police custody came like a bolt in the blue to EPS when he was grappling to handle the increasing spread of pandemic.
A small issue over closing of shops, which should have been dealt in an amicable manner by the officers on the ground, resulted in deaths of two innocent citizens because of a few highhanded policemen in Thoothukudi district. It won’t take more than a few hours for the CM to ascertain the facts through his intelligence wing. Based on the inputs, a quick call should have been taken and the issue should have been solved at the earliest.
On the evening of 19th June, one Jayaraj, a resident of Sathankulam, Thoothukudi was arrested by the police for keeping his timber shop open beyond lockdown hours. After witnessing his father being detained by the police, Bennicks, son of Jayaraj went to the police station to enquire about his father. There, the police officials incensed by an alleged derogatory remark by Jayaraj about the police, started attacking the father and son duo mercilessly. They were subjected to brutal third degree torture and were produced before a Judicial Magistrate who sent them to 15 days judicial custody without examining the condition of the accused. Two days later, both father and son complained of pain, taken to government hospital where they died in Kovilpatti Government Hospital.
According to a report in Frontline and eye witness accounts clearly establish the fact that both father son were subjected to immense torture and batons were inserted in their anus.
Opposition parties, activist groups condemned the killings unambiguously. This became the talking point on social media and soon celebrities joined the chorus demanding justice for Jayaraj and Bennicks. One wonders why EPS would allow such a shocking issue to ferment for more than a week and ultimately resulting in tarnishing the image of TN Government and police at a global level.
From the moment the news of double murder leaked in the media, EPS has been fumbling in his response. Initially, the policemen who were alleged to have been involved in the incident were shifted to Armed Reserve. Subsequently, two of the Sub-Inspectors were placed under suspension and the SHO- Inspector of Police was transferred. One week later, the Inspector was also suspended. EPS procrastinated for more than a week and finally surrendered his police force and gave way for a CBI investigation.
From a political point of view Edappadi Palanisamy has meekly surrendered to pressure and indirectly agreed that Tamil Nadu police force cannot handle the investigation in the double murder.
The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 is a brilliant weapon in the hands of any politician to pour water over fire. All over the country, this weapon is used to tide over many crises. In the past many incidents have been brushed under the carpet using the Commission of Inquiry Act.
To recall history, in 2008, when Karunanidhi was Chief Minister, Deccan Chronicle published transcripts of conversation between the then Chief Secretary LK.Tripathy IAS and TN Anti-Corruption Bureau Director SK.Upadhyay IPS. The story alleged that Tamil Nadu’s intelligence wing eavesdropped their own Chief Secretary. At that time, allegations of rampant illegal phone monitoring of important people was prevailing.
Karunanidhi, a shrewd politician, swiftly ordered a Commission of Inquiry headed by retired High Court Justice P.Shanmugam to probe into the issue. Orders for Commission of Inquiry was issued on the next day and the Commission commenced its probe. Karunanidhi understood that illegal phone tapping allegation is potent enough to unseat him. Karunanidhi was running a minority government then. Following the institution of Commission of Inquiry, the issued slowly went away from public memory.
A month after the Commission of Inquiry was instituted, Dr. Subramanian Swamy dropped a bombshell. He released an audio tape containing conversations between the then Social Welfare Minister Dr. Poongothai and Vigilance Director SK.Upadhyay. In the audio, Poongothai was asking favours for her relative who was arrested by the Vigilance on corruption charges.
The issue was raised in the assembly by the then leader of opposition O.Panneerselvam. Karunanidhi, on the floor of the assembly announced that, “Government is considering whether to refer the Poongothai audio also for probe by the ongoing Commission of Inquiry”. The matter was never referred to the Commission of Inquiry. The issue was given a silent burial.
Subsequently, even Jayalalitha also adopted this same method to put many burning issues into backburner.
However, the incumbent CM Edappadi Palanisamy appears to be groping in dark. Edappadi’s belated decision of handing over the investigation into Thoothukudi double murder to CBI should have been taken quickly. EPS could have taken moral high ground and boasted that his government will act in accordance with law. Another quick decision that could have pacified the growing anger could be to transfer the incumbent SP of Thoothukudi Arun Balagopalan IPS.
But the decision to transfer the incumbent SP was too late and not without its share of controversies.
On Monday, 29th of June the government of Tamil Nadu was in for a rude shock. When the Additional Advocate General of TN mentioned the matter before the Madras HC, the state was informed that the HC has initiated suo motu contempt proceedings against three officers of Thoothukudi police. The action was based on the report of the Judicial Magistrate who is conducting a probe into the twin custodial death based on High Court orders.
In a scathing indictment of Edappadi Palanisamy’s administration, the High Court said, “District Police administration are doing everything within their command to prevent the learned Magistrate from proceedings with enquiry”. Unheard in the history of Tamil Nadu, the court in a drastic step, ordered that revenue officials take over the Sathankulam police station to safe keep the records.
This was a major embarrassment for the Tamil Nadu Government. In other words, the court lost faith in the police department, which directly comes under the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister EPS.
The High Court further noted, “The report shows that D Kumar, Additional Superintendent of Police Thoothukudi and C Prathapan, Deputy Superintendent of Police Thoothukudi made themselves available in the Sathankulam police station and in their very presence, the other policemen were taking videos of the Magisterial proceedings. The policemen were not giving the records called for by the learned Magistrate and it is seen that one of them, Maharajan, police constable, Sathankulam police station had made a very disparaging remark in Tamil to the learned Magistrate”
EPS is well aware that Madras High Court has seized of the Sathankulam custodial issue. The Judicial Magistrate who is conducting the probe is doing so armed with the orders of HC. The local police administration should have provided fullest cooperation to the judicial probe. But, as per the report of the Judicial Magistrate, he was insulted, and harassed.
A simpler way to handle the situation would have been to depute a senior officer to coordinate and liaise with the Judicial Magistrate till the probe is over. The presence of a senior officer in the field would have eased the grim atmosphere. But this too was not done and the situation deteriorated so much that the HC came hammer & tongs on the state.
The replacement for Thoothukudi SP and Zonal IG has also generated controversy. Shanmugarajeswaran IPS under whom Thoothukudi district falls retires on superannuation on 30th June. In an order issued on Tuesday, EPS replaced Shanmugarajeswaran with Murugan IPS. Murugan is an officer who courted several controversies in his career. Even during his stint in CBI, Murugan was the subject of an internal probe for favouring certain accused. During his stint in DVAC, a woman Supdt. of Police alleged that Murugan had harassed her sexually. The Madras High Court which heard the allegations at one point, got so frustrated with the attitude of the state government ordered a probe by Telengana government into the sexual harassment complaint. Read in detail about the sexual harassment charges against Murugan here.
A senior woman IPS officer had this to say about Murugan’s posting as IG South Zone. “The allegations against Murugan are very serious. For more than two years probe has not even commenced. It is very surprising how government chose Murugan of all the available officers to post to south zone at a crucial time”.
The new Thoothukudi SP Jayakumar is also not without his share of controversies. Jayakumar is involved in the Gutkha scam, which is being probed by the CBI. An Indian Express report had this to say about the posting of Jayakumar.
“At a time when Sathankulam custodial murder probe has been transferred to CBI, the new Thoothukudi SP, Jeyakumar, has faced CBI interrogations lasting hours in the notorious gutkha scam.”
Earlier, serving as the deputy commissioner of police attached to the Central Crime Branch, there were many accused in the multi-crore gutkha scam along with Jeyakumar, from sub-inspectors to former city police commissioner S George and even the recently retired Tamil Nadu DGP T K Rajendran.
The gutkha scam was about the illegal sale of gutkha that was banned in Tamil Nadu since 2013. The case was about gutkha manufacturers allegedly bribing ministers and officials to store and sell gutkha.”
DMK President MK.Stalin too has taken exception to the postings of Murugan and Jayakumar. In a statement issued on Tuesday, Stalin said, “Murugan was instrumental in diluting the Gurkha probe when he was in DVAC and tried to save the Minister & other officers. He also raises red flag over the posting of Jayakumar as SP, Thoothukudi, as he too is also involved in Gutkha scam”
The Covid19 situation in Tamil Nadu is slowly getting out of hands and is slowly growing into a huge crisis. EPS thought that intense lockdown for a fortnight in Chennai and allied areas would stop the spread which in fact has helped a bit. But, the numbers in other districts of the state is growing exponentially. Placing the entire state under lockdown would lead to chaos. And it appears officials and the government machinery in Tamil Nadu has almost thrown the towel in dealing with the Corona crisis.
The incompetency of Edappadi Palanisamy in handling a crisis is creating another monster which if not checked would grow into gigantic proportions. A brave general can motivate the forces and keep their morale high even in grim situations. But Edappadi is neither able to motivate his officers nor instil confidence. Due to the absence of a powerful leader, the chain of command has broken in many places.
Most of the IAS and IPS officers working in the state have become a law unto themselves and act like warlords of a tribal land. Particularly officers who are heading the districts think that they cannot be transferred by the Chief Minister that easily. And this belief is not misplaced. Every officer heading the district owe their postings to the district Minister and have morphed as mercenaries of the respective Ministers. Edappadi having no control over the Ministers has emboldened the officers to enforce their whimsical writs.
The absence of a command in Tuticorin was evident when Times Now broke a story about the involvement of police personnel in the Thoothukudi double murder.
#Exclusive | Tuticorin custodial deaths.
TIMES NOW speaks to 2 of the cops who were present at the police station when the assault happened.
Listen in to the contradictory statements made by 2 of them.
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) June 27, 2020
In the story broke by Times Now, it could be seen that police personnel associated with the facts and circumstances of the double murder speaking to the Times Now journalist. The policemen in the audio spoke to the Times Now scribe, knowing well that he is a journalist. A couple of years back, this would never have happened. No policeman will speak on record to a journalist about any ongoing investigation. Speaking off camera is a different matter altogether. But a policeman going on record is quite serious.
The first job of the Thoothukudi district administration is to check the breach. The story by Time Now, exposed the sorry state of affairs prevailing in Tamil Nadu. A senior officer on condition of anonymity had this to say.
“Constables speaking to the media on record is completely unheard of in Tamil Nadu police history. Whenever there is any such call, the standard reply of the constabulary would be to direct the call to their superiors. Constables of Sathankulam police station speaking to media shows that there is absence of command from the top”
On the Chief Minister agreeing for CBI investigation, he said, “TN CM is the Minister for Home. TN police force works under his command. He should have fought till Supreme Court to ensure the investigation remains with the state. We could have conducted the investigation properly and ensured conviction of the guilty policemen. It would have been one more feather in the cap of Tamil Nadu police. But, the CM choosing CBI investigation is very unfortunate”.
A Delhi based journalist said, “looks like the entire system of governance is collapsed in Tamil Nadu. There is no fear and no accountability and those who govern the state think that there is no one to question them.
What happened in Tuticorin is a cold blooded murder and every story that the Sattankulam police has come up with to cover up the case is falling apart. There are CCTV footage that has completely busted the lies of Tuticorin police. The story is very simple. Two innocent people were picked up by rogue cops, subjected to custodial torture and killed in custody.
This is an open and shut case, all that one expects from the Chief Minister is to take stringent action against the culprits for this unpardonable crime. But EPS was running away from discharging his duty as a Chief Minister and trying to pass the buck. The lack of action on part of the Government and the police triggered national outrage and tarnished the image of the State and its police force. Clearly shows that EPS is not in control of things and no one is in control of EPS too.” He added.
The interim order of Madras High Court on 30th June in the Sathankulam custodial deaths is another indictment on the EPS administration. Ordering the state’s Crime Branch CID to conduct the probe, till the time CBI takes over the investigation, HC said, “In our opinion, the ante-mortem injuries found on the bodies of the deceased, coupled with the averments in the report of the learned Judicial Magistrate No.1, Kovilpatti, especially the statement of Revathy, Head Constable, would be prima facie enough to alter the case to one under Section 302 IPC against the Sathankulam policemen who were actively involved in the investigation of the case in Cr.No.312 of 2020.”
This could have been done by the state government on its own. Registration of a criminal case for murder and arrest of the police officials involved would not only have improved the perception of the Tamil Nadu police, but also would have been a saving grace before the High Court.
An officer of Additional DGP rank, on condition of anonymity said, “The mistake on the side of Thoothukudi police personnel is unpardonable. They have committed a grave mistake. They should be given exemplary punishment as they are not ordinary men, but law-enforcement officers. Without waiting for the intervention of Courts or Human Rights commissions the state should have taken strict action on our own. But allowing this issue to precipitate has resulted in public anger against the entire police force.
All the good work done by TN police force during the past 3 months in the pandemic has gone vain which is unfortunate and sad.”
As of now, the morale of the policemen in Tamil Nadu has gone down. Two constables who made rash facebook posts have been placed under suspension. The overall feeling among the rank and file of Tamil Nadu police is that, the department will not save them.
Such a sentiment will have far reaching implications. With the morale of the rank and file down, there would be practical difficulties in implementing the lockdown, crime prevention, traffic management, etc. Police personnel who are at the receiving end may be reluctant to implement the orders.
But, the stop-gap Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy is living blissfully ignorant of the far reaching complications facing the state. He is very keen only on making money. While the state is grappling with the pandemic and suffering from shortage of funds, Edappadi Palanisamy’s Highways Department has floated tenders worth more than 12,000 crores, according to a report in the New Indian Express. This action of EPS just points towards one thing. Make hay while the sun shines. Edappadi Palanisamy has neither the vision nor intellect to handle a vibrant state like Tamil Nadu.
EPS knows, he can’t control the Ministers. He can’t control any IAS or IPS officer. He cannot take any independent decisions which BJP won’t like. He cannot win 2021 elections on his own. He may not be the Chief Minister candidate of ADMK in 2021. Sasikala who will come out of prison sooner than February next year won’t allow EPS to be the CM candidate. Mannargudi group is always an albatross around his neck and he cannot take them head on.
Edappadi Palanisamy is very well aware that nothing is in his control in the state. As a Captain running the Tamil Nadu ship, he is just short of giving a mayday call and abandon the ship.