Read judgment: K.Arulanantham vs. State by CBI State Crime Branch Chennai

Pankaj Bajpai

Chennai, August 12, 2021: The Madras High Court came down upon investigators of the petrifying Pollachi sexual assault case for committing the lapse of divulging names of the victims to the media, directing that they should be dealt with departmentally by initiating proceedings against them.

The Bench of Justice M. Dhandapani observed that “the pathetic situation that has unfolded since independence is that the women folk are not able to move out without fear even during the day time as their security and safety are at peril at the hands of antisocial elements, who prey on the women folk to satisfy their lust, as is reflected in the present case”. 

The Pollachi sexual assault case refers to a 2019 case of rape and extortion of numerous women by a gang in Pollachi, Coimbatore, in Tamil Nadu. The gang enticed women into isolated places after befriending them on social media and sexually assaulted them and filmed the acts.

The observation came pursuant to a petition seeking enlargement on default bail, wherein the offence which was committed had created an errie atmosphere in the society and attracted many sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act and the Information Technology Act. 

The bench dismissed the criminal original petition. 

The offence in which the petitioner was implicated pertains to the act of various accused, including the petitioner, in sexually assaulting and abusing the victims, many in number, which has resulted in the registration of the crime (rape, sexual assault & extortion) by the Pollachi Town Police, which was, thereafter, transferred to the CBI vide notification issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu.

The Special Public Prosecutor submitted that in the case on hand, the gravity of the offence committed was of monstrous proportion, by persons who had terrorised the victims by their acts in committing indecent and inhuman acts. 

The prosecution submitted that the High Court not only uphold justice, but equally with a view to safeguarding the interest of the victims and the witnesses who would be deposing in the trial, may issue directions to the State in consonance with the directions issued by the Supreme Court pertaining to the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, formulated for this purpose, so that the safety and security of the victims and the witnesses are not jeopardized and that they could give evidence without fear or favour against the accused persons.

“Though the victim stands compensated, however, this Court is of the view that the said cost imposed on the said persons is not commensurate with the gravity of the offence committed by the concerned persons. The disclosure of the names of the victims by the investigating team over the media, has put the fate of the said victims in jeopardy and the violation is of such a magnitude that imposition of cost alone would not be sufficient,” observed Justice Dhandapani.

Hence, the High Court with a view to ensure the safety and security of the victims, who would be witnesses in the trial as also the other witnesses who would be deposing during the trial, issued various directions:

1. As undertaken by the CBI, all earnest efforts be made to commence the trial by the 1st week of September, 2021 and to that extent the CBI shall take all earnest efforts to apprehend all the persons, if not already apprehended and file necessary report before the commencement of the trial.

2. The trial court shall, during the course of hearing of such application, ensure that the name of the witness is not revealed to any other person, which is likely to lead to the identification of the witness.

3. The Witness Protection Measures as spelt out in in Part-II, Part-III, Part-IV and Part-V of the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, shall be strictly adhered to once the competent authority has passed an order protecting the identity of the witness. 

4. The State Government also shall ensure that the types of protection measures, as envisaged under Clause-7 of the Witness Protection Scheme, is strictly adhered to, so that the identity of the witness would be closely guarded pretrial and post-trial so that the safety and security of the victims and witnesses would stand protected.

5. The State shall also take all necessary steps for providing Live Link for taking deposition of the victims and the witnesses for the purposes of interacting with the competent authority as also for the purpose of deposing before the Court.

6. The Forensic Lab, which comes under the control of the State Government, shall submit the necessary reports relating to the items, which have been sent for analysis, to the CBI within a period of two weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order. 

7. In view of the sensitivity of the case, the trial court shall take all necessary steps to conduct “In Camera Proceedings”, wherever necessary as provided under Clause 2 (f) of the Witness Protection Scheme.

8. The Government shall initiate appropriate departmental action forthwith against the then Superintendent of Police and also the other police personnel, who were involved in divulging the names of the victims and the accused to the media.

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