THOOTHUKUDI: Even as police rules state that a history sheet can be in force for only two years and it requires an objective appraisal of materials for retention beyond two years, as many as 34 people are still maintained as history-sheeters (or pokkiris in Tamil) for taking part in the agitation against the Sterlite Copper plant four years ago, revealed the response to an RTI application.
As per the RTI reply obtained by advocate Hari Ragavan in February, the police stations in the district had opened history sheets against 55 people following the 2018 anti-Sterlite protests. The history sheets against 16 people in Thoothukudi central police station and five persons in Thoothukudi south police station were subsequently withdrawn. Thoothukudi north police station, Thalamuthunagar station, Muthaiyapuram station, Kulathur station, Pudukkottai station, and SIPCOT station are yet to cancel a total of 34 history sheets.
The Public Information Officer refused to name those history-sheeted citing sections 8(i)(j) and 8(i)(g) of the Right To Information Act, 2005. "History sheeting civilians over protests or agitations affects their careers and keeps them constantly under the police scanner. A few women are also history-sheeted in this connection," Hari Ragavan told TNIE.
The Madurai Bench of Madras High Court had directed the State police to periodically examine history sheets with regards to parameters suggested by the court. Dubbing the maintenance of history sheets against anti-Sterlite protestors as contempt of court, human rights activist and executive director of People's Watch Henry Tiphagne said as per the Police Standing Order 748(2), a history sheet can be in force for only two years and it requires an objective appraisal of materials for retention beyond two years. "It is appalling to note that history sheets were opened for people, who had no prior criminal record, just for taking part in a civilian protest. Their movements are being watched constantly. This is a violation of their Constitutional rights," he said.
Tiphagne had previously appeared in court on behalf of anti-Sterlite protesters, seeking to quash the history sheets against them. The Aruna Jegadeesan Committee probing the Sterlite firing case is yet to submit its final report, and the CBI has not registered its second FIR so far. But still, the civilians' future is made to hang in the balance, Tiphagne added. Law graduates, who had taken part in the agitations, told TNIE they are struggling to enroll in the bar council and practice law due to the history sheets. A few had got a "No Objection Certificate" from the police and CBI to enroll in the Tamil Nadu bar council, they added.
It is pertinent to note that while pronouncing the order on a batch of 30 cases against the then Director General of Police (DGP) on July 3, 2020, the court observed that the decision to history sheet or retain a person in the history sheet must be based on tangible materials and on an objective basis.
"When a person has to be treated as a habitual offender, or one addicted to crime or a known deprecator of law, he should have been either notified as a habitual offender under the Tamil Nadu Habitual Offenders Act, 1948, or an order under section 110 CrPC should be passed. No former convict should be treated as a suspect wherein there is no subsequent case. History sheet should not be opened against citizens participating in peaceful protests, agitations, demonstrations or the like unless an order is passed by the Executive Magistrate under CrPC section 107 or 110," the order said.
According to official sources, during a half-yearly review of the period between January 1 and June 30, 2021, the State police had closed history sheets pending against 2,221 people out of the 2,580 sheets opened in the same period. As on June 30, 2021, history sheets are pending against 40,742 people in the State, the official said.
"With reference to the court order on automation of history sheeting progress, the State Crime Records Bureau had floated a tender for finding a software developer to develop a web-based CCTNS application by ELCOT, and the tender evaluation was scheduled to be completed by mid-April. The migration of old data from the existing CCTNS database will be completed in another nine months," the State police had told the court during a contempt of court case hearing.
When contacted, Thoothukudi Superintendent of Police L Balaji Saravanan told TNIE that the case details of history sheeters were reviewed in compliance with the court orders, and the many history sheets were closed on a merit basis. Further reviews will be conducted as per the court orders to check the maintainability of the history sheets, he added.