Kerala Panel submits reports on Walayar case; recommends action against police and prosecutors

As the commission found ‘glaring lapses in the Walayar investigation by the then Sub Inspector PC Chacko’ appropriate action will be taken against the officer proportional to the gravity of the lapses
Protests at Delhi against the acquittal of the accused
Protests at Delhi against the acquittal of the accusedTwitter

The PK Haneefa Judicial Commission — that probed into the suspected deaths of two Dalit sisters in Walayar — has recommended actions against the police and public prosecutors. On Wednesday, the Kerala Assembly tabled a report on the Commission’s findings detailing the failings of the investigative officers and the prosecutors. The report indicated that as the commission found “glaring lapses in the Walayar investigation by the then Sub Inspector PC Chacko”, appropriate action will be taken against the officer proportional to the gravity of the lapses. Meanwhile, the State Police Chief Loknath Behera is entrusted to hold a departmental-level inquiry to identify all lapses from the investigative officers until the filing of the chargesheet.

The commission said that Chacko had failed to do his duty properly in terms of the investigation and further actions to preserve the life of the younger girl. Two minor Dalit sisters were found hanging in their hut in Walayar in 2017. The 13-year-old elder sister was found on January 13, following which the nine-year-old younger girl testified seeing her sister’s attackers. The younger sister was found in a similar state on March 4. The committee pointed out that the failure of the officer in protecting the younger girl after her sister’s death, despite knowledge of threats against her, was “unjustifiable and unpardonable”

The original probe did not pursue murder, but a case of unnatural death and they tried to push the suicide argument. The case began to pick up traction following the younger sister’s death and the post mortem report claiming sexual assault. Much before that, the autopsy report of the 13-year-old had stated that the girl died by hanging, and added that while there were no genital injuries, the “anal orifice appeared stretched with multiple mucosal erosions…” The police, having ignored this fact, had to follow through when the conditions repeated in the case of the younger girl.

The commission report said, “Officer Chacko has not incorporated necessary sections under the IPC and POCSO Act for the investigation. Moreover, the failure to arraign the accused for sexual assault is a glaring lapse on the part of the officer.” The police added more sections to the investigation only after further postmortem report indicated multiple cases of sexual assault on the girls, with younger one’s report indicating vaginal penetration as well. After days of work, the investigating officers arrested five people — V Madhu, M Madhu, Shibu, Pradeep Kumar, and a juvenile. However, the POCSO Court acquitted the accused due to lack of evidence, since the prosecution’s side was filled with hearsays, inconclusive and circumstantial evidence. This called into question the efficacy of the investigation.

The PK Haneefa commission also emphasised the serious lapses that led to the acquittal. The former District Judge found serious holes in the prosecution’s case and blasted the police for the tardy investigation. The committee recommended taking action against the then SI PC Chacko. While criticising the two special prosecutors, Jalaja Madhavan and Latha Jayaraj, the report said that they had “not succeeded in truly and faithfully utilising the evidence gathered during the investigation and in conscientiously presenting all the matters proving the charges against the accused persons during the trial of the cases…”

The committee further added that the prosecutors did not take any steps to rectify the shortcomings of the final investigation report, despite claiming the evidence to be inefficient. The panel suggested that the two prosecutors may not be recommended to the post of Public Prosecutors in Sessions Court in the future due to “glaring lapses committed by them”.

After the Kerala High Court cancelled the POCSO court’s verdict on the Walayar rape case on January 6, it came down heavily on the local police and the prosecution. The High Court termed the initial police investigation as ineffective, “debilitating the DySP’s efforts to effectually reinvestigate the case”. “A lack of efficient investigation by an officer is embarrassing to the entire state police force. The government must make sure that their police officers can professionally handle such cases. Serious lapses in the investigation of such high profile cases can create contempt for the state government,” the HC observed.

Moreover, the High Court also said that the POCSO judge failed in efficiently handling the trial. The report added that proper training must be given to POCSO judges so that such instances don’t happen in the future. The HC had also referred to the PK Haneefa committee report, while summing its judgement. Similarly, the latter had recommended induction training to public prosecutors appointed to Sessions Court at least two months before taking charge. Moreover, Justice Haneefa recommended permitting investigative officers to seek a legal opinion from senior advocates, including prosecutor panel prepared by the government, before submitting reports to the Court in sensitive cases.

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