Expressing shock and disbelief at police excesses unleashed against a lady lecturer and four others, including three advocates, by Coimbatore police, the Madras high court has directed the government to pay Rs 4.5 lakh compensation to them. The court also recommended disciplinary proceedings against the then assistant commissioner of Singanallur, Gopalasamy, and inspector of Saravanampatty station, Charles. A division bench comprising Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice S Tamilvanan, slamming the Coimbatore city police for keeping the five under illegal detention and surveillance for two days in July 2008, said: “The police excesses alleged and proved in this case are shocking to our conscience...Custodians of law cannot act like destroyers of law...Police excesses tarnish the image of any civilised nation and encourage the men in khakhi to consider themselves to be above law.” The whole issue emanated from an apartment complex where T Jayanthi, an educationist, was a tenant.
When she questioned levy of Rs 2,500 by the residents’ association and refused to pay up, the officebearers picked up a quarrel with her and disconnected the water supply in July 2008. When she sought to restore supply, police were brought into the scene. Intimidated by the police, she called her brother, an advocate in Chennai, for help. When he along with three other advocates and a driver went to the house, the police picked them up and confined them in a lodge for inquiry. They were also kept under police surveillance. They were released only after a habeas corpus petition was filed.
Justice Dharma Rao, writing the judgment for the bench, said the police should have arrested the five and duly remanded them in judicial custody if the situation really warranted that. Instead, they curtailed the detenues’ fundamental right to liberty by detaining them in a lodge and under surveillance for two whole days. Convinced that it was a condemnable case of police excess, he said, “it is not a case involving history sheeters or habitual offenders, so as to justify the police action of keeping them under surveillance.”
Pointing out that none of the procedures mandated in the Code of Criminal Procedure or various Supreme Court judgments had been followed by the Coimbatore police, the judges held the state vicariously liable for the misdeeds of its officials and directed the home secretary to deposit Rs 4.5 lakh within four weeks. While Dr Jayanthi and three advocates — Manivannan, Chinna Alagu and Shankar — shall be paid Rs 1 lakh each, driver Ajmal shall get Rs 50,000 as compensation. The court also suggested criminal action against the secretary of the residents welfare association, as he was the one who denied her water and initiated the whole drama.