Custodial death: MM Mani accused of influencing probe

Custodial death: M M Mani accused of influencing probe
Idukki SP KB Venugopal, Raj Kumar, Minister MM Mani.

The opposition on Thursday demanded that the Assembly halt all proceedings to discuss the custodial death of Raj Kumar. This was the third time this session that such a demand was made. And for the third time, following Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's repeated refrain that police officials found guilty would not be spared, Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan refused permission to discuss the issue.

It is not usual for a single issue to be taken up as an adjournment motion for a second time in the Assembly. The death of Sajen Parayil was taken up twice this session. Now, Raj Kumar's death was raised as adjournment motion for the third time. For an issue to be taken up more than once, there has to be a new development.

Congress MLA Shafi Parambil, who sought leave for an adjournment motion on the custody death issue, said the new development was the charge raised by a man named Hakkim, an auto driver, who alleged that he too was beaten up by the police inside the Nedumkandam police station the very same day that Raj Kumar was also allegedly brutalised.

It looks like both Hakkim and Raj Kumar were in the police station at the same time. The chief minister, sourcing his information from the police records, said that Hakkim was arrested at 10.15 pm on June 14. Police records show that Raj Kumar was taken into custody on June 15. The chief minister said Hakkim was picked up by the police on the basis of a complaint filed by his wife for domestic violence. Besides other forms of violence, the wife's complaint had said that Hakkim had fractured her right hand.

This provoked the ruling party members to shout that the opposition was arguing for a wife beater. “That is no excuse for the police to nearly kill a person,” the opposition members shot back.

Shafi Parambil said the violence unleashed on Hakkim was so brutal that it caused a dent on the iron railings of the cell in which Hakkim was lodged. “What is worse was that the police asked Hakkim's mother to pay Rs 4,000 to straighten the railing. This poor old lady then brought a blacksmith and got the job done for Rs 700,” Parambil said.

The thrust of Shafi Parambil's argument was that the Nedumkandam police could get away with their brutal methods because of political patronage. He alleged that the police had the protection of a minister from Idukki, a reference to power minister M M Mani. “The minister had held a long discussion with one of the officers in the special investigation team during a wedding held in Idukki recently,” Parambil alleged.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, too, referred to the minister's discussions with an official of the probe team. “We would like to know whether the minister is protecting the culprits,” Chennithala said.

On July 2, when his name was mentioned in connection with the Raj Kumar custody death in the Assembly, M M Mani had intervened. He had then hinted that some locals connected with the Congress party had tortured Raj Kumar before he was handed over to the police. On Thursday, Mani chose to remain silent.

Ramesh Chennithala accused the police of doing the bidding of the “party's court”. “The job of the police is to remain subservient to the Constitution and not to the party's court,” he said.

Shafi Parambil said that royal treatment was given to the killers of the political enemies of CPM like T P Chandrasekharan and policemen charged with custodial murder were rewarded with promotion. “All of this are perhaps encouraging policemen hungry for extrajudicial methods,” Parambil said.

The opposition leader then challenged the chief minister to order a judicial inquiry into the custodial death. “In 2015, when I was home minister, I had ordered a judicial inquiry into a case of custodial death. I urge you to do the same,” Chennithala said. The chief minister refused to respond. Chennithala had raised the demand on July 2 also.

He said the government was shamelessly protecting Idukki SP K B Venugopal. “It is wrong to say that the SP was unaware of Raj Kumar's custody. The special branch keeps the SP constantly informed. Now we hear that the SP is threatening the special branch officers,” Chennithala said. “In the interest of fairness, the government should ask the SP to step down at least till the probe is over,” he added. The chief minister did not respond to this, too.