Madras HC rejects plea for CBI probe into IIT Madras student suicide case

The PIL alleged that from April 2018 till November 2019, as many as five students had committed suicide in the campus and the management had not taken any effective steps in arresting the issue.

Published: 13th December 2019 12:54 PM  |   Last Updated: 13th December 2019 07:46 PM   |  A+A-

IIT Madras, Madras IIT, IIT-M

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. (Photo | EPS)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: A division bench of the Madras High Court has rejected pleas from the National Students Union of India (NSUI) and the Kerala-based Loktantarik Yuva Janatha Dal seeking CBI investigation into the suicide deaths of students at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras for years together, more particularly the last one of Fathima Latheef, on November 9. 

The bench led by Justice M Sathyanarayanan, constituting two different ones, one relating to NSUI and the other for LYJD, dismissed both the petitions with a direction to the management of the IIT to provide effective psychological periodical counselling to the affected students. 

While the PIL petition from the NSUI alleged that from April 2018 till November 2019, as many as five students had killed self in the campus and the management has not taken any effective steps in arresting it, the other one from LYJD contended that 16 students had committed suicide from 2008. 

As far as Fathima is concerned, there is alleged religious discrimination and she had faced harassment at the hands of some of the named professors. Despite this, no action, not even a disciplinary action, is initiated, they contended. 

The Special Government Pleader representing the government submitted that the suicides were on account of the fact that the students were unable to withstand the pressure to perform better and other related issues and so far as the investigation is concerned, all relevant materials have been collected and subjected to rigorous scrutiny and in the absence of any specific allegation as to mala fide, investigation cannot be transferred to the CBI at the threshold and prayed for dismissal of the petitions. 

Dismissing the petitions, the bench (the other judge being Justice N Seshasayee in the first case and Justice R Hemalatha in the second one) said that it is a well-settled position of law that the High Court, in exercise of its power under Article 226 of the Constitution, cannot direct the investigating agency to probe the case in accordance with its views, as the same would amount to unwarranted interference. 

The Court observed that it cannot issue a mandamus on the basis of mere sympathy or sentiment. The very plenitude of the power under the said Articles requires great caution in its exercise.

As for the question of getting CBI to probe the case, although no inflexible guidelines can be laid down to decide whether or not such power should be exercised, but time and again it has been reiterated that such an order is not to be passed as a matter of routine or merely because a party has levelled some allegations against the local police.

This extraordinary power must be exercised sparingly, cautiously and in exceptional situations where it becomes necessary to provide credibility and instil confidence in investigations or where the incident may have national and international ramifications or where such an order may be necessary for doing complete justice and enforcing the fundamental rights.

Otherwise, CBI would be flooded with a large number of cases and with limited resources, may find it difficult to properly investigate even serious cases and in the process lose its credibility and purpose with unsatisfactory investigations, the judges said. 

The court noted that investigations into the death of Fathima have been transferred to the Additional Commissioner of Police, Central Crime Branch, Chennai city.

A headway has been made in the investigation and the cellphone of the deceased was seized and subjected to forensic analysis and expeditious steps have already been taken to conclude the investigation at the earliest.

"No doubt, brilliant academic career of a young student came to an end under tragic circumstances and this Court can also understand the feelings/sentiments of the parents. The statistics provided by the SGP disclosed that between February, 2008 and November, 2019, as many as 16 students had committed suicide, may be on account of stress and other related facts and unable to perform to their full potential.

Hence, it is high time that the administration of IIT shall make every endeavour to give periodical psychiatric counselling to the students and the teaching faculties are also under obligation to motivate/encourage the students to perform better and a permanent solution is to be found as expeditiously as possible to prevent loss of young lives," the judges said. 

The court said it is always open to the jurisdictional magistrate to monitor the investigation and to order further investigation if he is satisfied that the investigation and collection of materials have not proceeded on the right lines.

This Court cannot issue a mandamus on the basis of mere sympathy or sentiment and however, taking into consideration the facts and circumstances as well as the agony being undergone by the parents of the deceased, the Investigating Agency concerned is directed to file their Status Report before this Court as to the progress being made in the investigation, the judges added and dismissed the petitions. 


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