What happens to personnel in khaki who are caught red-handed while committing a crime? Do they get exemplary punishment?
Not always, if you were to go by the career graph of police inspector S Thomson, who was trapped by
vigilance officials a few weeks ago while accepting bribe from a city resident for offering to not file a First Information Report against him.
Thomson has since been arrested, but remember he is a repeat offender. He allegedly committed a similar offence in 2004 when he was posed as an inspector in Kancheepuram district.
At that point in time, vigilance officers arrested him for accepting bribe from a hotelier. He not only secured bail, he also managed to keep his job as a law enforcement officer and was transferred to the J J Nagar police station in Chennai, where he continued to so what he did in Kancheepuram – line his pockets.
So, what makes the Thomsons in the police department keep their jobs despite watertight evidence of corruption? One reason is the inordinate delay in disposing of the cases by the judiciary. For example, over nine years after Thomson was first caught red-handed by vigilance sleuths, trial is still pending in a Chengalpattu court. Vigilance officers invariably include neutral eyewitnesses while making arrests in “trap cases” to make them watertight. Besides, there is strong material evidence, like chemical coated currency notes received by the accused. Yet the wheels of justice grind rather slowly.
Another factor is the perceived lack of will among the men in khaki to weed out the black sheep, if one goes by data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau. Remember these are records put together by the police department itself. They say 4,787 complaints were filed at police stations across Tamil Nadu against police officers between 2001 and 2012. Of them, cases were registered on 1,688 complaints and chargesheets filed in 787 cases alone. Worse, just 19 of the cases ended up in conviction. In other words, one in 252 complaints alone resulted in conviction.
Most of the complaints were closed as “mistake of fact/law” by the police especially when the accused was a police officer. The inference is stark: greedy police officers need not worry even if they are caught with irrefutable evidence because officers tasked with going after them don’t really have the will to take on their fraternity. This has been the recurrent experience of various people who have fought long legal battles against erring police offices.
“Many police officers are hesitant to initiate action against their own personnel. I was shocked when I went for a hearing in a departmental enquiry against a sub-inspector against whom I lodged a complaint. When I reached there, the woman sub-inspector and the deputy commissioner, who was assigned to hold the enquiry, were talking like friends and were sharing piping hot coffee,” says Sumathi, who is waging a legal battle against the sub-inspector for swindling her stolen jewellery after recovering it from a thief.
E Subramian, a Chengalpattu-based anti-corruption activist, who was instrumental in lodging the 2004 vigilance case against Thomson, says corrupt police officers often wield much influence, derailing investigation of cases against them. “The corruption case against Thomson is pending for last nine years in a Chengalpattu court. He is using every tactic to delay hearing in the case. For example, using his influence, he destroyed movement record of the station inspector on the day he was arrested and later filed a petition in the court seeking the record for his defence. Obviously the prosecution will not be able to produce it,” he says.
In 2005, Subramian was brutally assaulted by a group of henchmen, who he claims were hired by Thomson.
“But despite my insistence, the police did not arrange for recording of my statement by a magistrate when I was struggling for life in hospital. The police also did not include Thomson as an accused. Instead, they intentionally weakened the case by including unsubstantiated elements in the chargesheet. No wonder, the henchmen were all acquitted by a lower court, and the police never went on appeal. The police also exerted influence and delayed issuing a copy of the judgment so that I will not be able to go on appeal within the stipulated 90 days,” he alleges.
Coimbatore-based advocate A S Mohammed Ali, who waged a lengthy legal battle after being assaulted by the police inside a police station, says the men in khaki used silly techniques to weaken his case right from the start. “After I was rescued by other advocates and admitted in a hospital for treatment, the police tried to get my signature on a piece of paper on which it was written that I was drunk that night. Luckily, my friends noticed this and persuaded me not to sign it,” he says.
Inspector Lakshmanan has at least six FIRs filed against him and has spent over 45 days in prison. He was suspended as he did not report for duty after leave. While the status of the departmental enquiry against him is yet unclear, he got posted as inspector in Tirunelveli district within a few weeks. Lakshmanan was known for his closeness to DMK heavyweight Veerapandi Arumugam during the last DMK regime. He is a co-accused in many cases against Arumugam that were filed after the regime change. He was also arrested in a land grab case and lodged in jail for 45 days.
“An order for internal enquiry against Lakshmanan had still not been issued. He was transferred from Salem during the run up to the Assembly election by the election commission after which he went on leave. He was suspended only on grounds that he did not report for duty after leave,” says Salem-based advocate Manikandan.
Lakshmanan is currently an inspector in the Prohibition Enforcement Wing in Tirunelveli.
DIG Mohamed Ali
Remember the infamous police officer who was arrested in the Telgi scam? A P Mohamed Ali, who was then serving in CB-CID, the State’s premier investigation agency, was arrested by the CBI for letting loose a kingpin in the Telgi fake stamp paper scam for extraneous reasons. When Ali was arrested in 2004, it made national headlines. The CBI had then accused Ali of letting a main accused in the case go free so he could sell the fake stamp papers worth about `2 crore. The CBI also raided the premises owned by Ali and several high profile government officials. When public memory of the scam faded, Ali was back on duty and was in fact promoted to the rank of IG before he retired.
Special Sub-inspector Karuppaiah
Amidst the glaring cases of tainted cops continuing to wear the khaki, Special Sub-inspector Karuppaiah was an exception who lost his job because of misbehaviour with a woman while on duty. In 2012, posted in the traffic enforcement wing, Karuppaiah misbehaved with a woman during a vehicle check at Avinashi Road in Coimbatore. He was allegedly drunk when he misbehaved with the woman. The public caught him before a police team took him under custody.
Though he was booked by the Coimbatore police under mild sections of the IPC and was released on bail by the investigating officer, he was suspended from duty.
A police chargesheet later indicted him for misbehaving with the woman and being drunk while on duty. Mysteriously, the woman complainant and her brother turned hostile during trial.
However, despite the case getting weakened after the woman turned hostile, Coimbatore city police commissioner A K Viswananthan relieved Karuppaiah from duty on compulsory retirement.