The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has passed an interim order restricting the 13 convicts who were released in the 1997 Melavalavu murder case from entering the village in Madurai district of Tamil Nadu. They have been directed to stay in the Vellore district till the petition challenging the government order (GO) passed for their early release is disposed of.
The division bench of Justices S Vaidhyanathan and N. Anand Venkatesan passed the order while hearing a PIL filed by advocate P Rathinam challenging the government which had ordered for the premature release of 13 life convicts.
On June 30, 1997, six members of the scheduled caste community were murdered on a broad day-light by the members of the upper caste community in Melavalavu village near Madurai district.
Melvalavu, which was originally a general panchayat, was declared a reserved constituency for scheduled caste candidates in 1996, agitating the upper caste community members who were holding some of the key positions in the village. After the local body polls, Murugesan, who was elected as the panchayat president, was beheaded and five other scheduled caste community members were murdered by a group of upper-caste men when they were traveling in a bus.
Out of the 40 accused, the trial court found 17 of them guilty and handed them life-sentence. The verdict was upheld by the High Court and the Supreme Court.
In 2008, during the regime of DMK leader Karunanidhi, three amongst the 17 accused, who were serving life-sentence, were granted remission on the occasion of former TN Chief Minister CN Anna Durai’s birthday.
Now, 22 years after the gruesome incident, the AIADMK government released the remaining 13 convicts (one of them died in 2010) citing good conduct on November 9 as part of the centenary celebrations of former TN Chief Minister Dr. MG Ramachandran.
On Wednesday, after hearing the PIL filed by advocate Rathinam, the division bench issued a series of interim orders. According to the reports, the convicts were directed to report to the Vellore district probation officer each month on every second and fourth Sunday and to the Superintendent of Police on every first and third Sunday. They have been instructed not to move out of the Vellore district without court approval. The court ruled that both the petitioner and the convicts should not take part in any meetings or public events.
As per the directions of the court, the state advocate general filed a status report. The report stated that before the premature release of the 13 convicts, detailed scrutiny was carried out. It added that the state government considered the recommendations of the Inspector General of prisons and state-level committees before the release of the convicts. The advocate general further said that already three of the convicts involved in the same case were released in 2008 during former CM Anna’s birthday celebrations. They are outside for the past 10 years and there has been no law and order problem because of them till date.
Responding to the state government’s claim, the bench said a previous wrong cannot justify perpetuating the same wrong in the future. “Two wrongs will not make things right. The release of three convicts did not become the subject matter of challenge earlier and therefore, it cannot become a binding precedent to justify the release of the 13 convicts,” the bench observed.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Vanni Arasu, the state deputy general secretary of Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (VCK), said the Madras High court should not release the convicts as it will lead to unwanted tension in the village. “The release of these convicts will set a wrong precedent. This is not a simple murder case, this is an act against the government’s policy. We didn’t request the government to make the Melavalavu village panchayat into a reserved constituency, the government did it as part of its protocol. So, the persons responsible for the killings acted against the government and they are now set free. Melavalavu is a small hamlet, these persons will be seen in any public place like a tea shop, bus stop, etc. Whenever the public see these people, they will be scared, it will lead to unwanted tension,” he said.
Further, Arasu pointed out that the Madras HC should carry out a similar exercise that was practiced in Madurai CPM councillor K Leelavathi murder case, where the accused SR Nallamarudu (brother of DMK functionary Essor B Gopi), who was awarded a life-term sentence, was released early by the government citing good conduct but later sent back to Madurai jail as he involved in many crimes once he was set free. “According to GO, people who commit a grievous crime against minority communities and women won’t be considered for early release, but the government has relaxed those rules and released these convicts,” he added.
The court has directed the state to file their counter-affidavits before January 2, 2020, and adjourned the hearing till January 6, 2020.