The Kerala High Court on Friday directed the CBI to take over the probe into the alleged custodial death of a farmer, who was arrested by forest officers on the charge of destroying a camera device.
The body of 40-year-old P P Mathai, a resident of Ranni in Pathanamthitta district, was found in a well on July 28, hours after he was taken into custody.
The family has decided not to conduct Mathai’s funeral till the culprits are arrested.
The bench of Justice V G Arun acted on a petition moved by Mathai’s wife Sheeba, demanding a CBI probe. The state government did not object to handing over the probe to the central agency.
A group of forest officers had arrested Mathai on July 28 on charges of destroying a camera erected in a forest area bordering his farm land. Hours later, his body was found in a well. The forest officers had said Mathai escaped from their custody and died by suicide. But police investigation found that the forest officers illegally took Mathai into custody and allegedly forged documents after his death to show it as suicide.
After farmer outfits and the Opposition Congress launched an agitation, demanding action against the forest officers, the Forest Department suspended two officers and transferred five others from the Chittar forest office in Pathanamthitta. As no officer was arrested or named in the FIR after three weeks of the incident, Mathai’s wife moved the high court for a CBI probe.
She said in her plea that the police were delaying the arrest of the accused, who, according to her, have the backing of political parties and associations of forest officers.
Mathai’s brother P P Wilson said, “We will not bury his body till the culprits are arrested. The body is still at a private mortuary. He was the sole breadwinner of the family. Apart from his wife and two children, Mathai had been taking care of his mother and two sisters. We will fight for justice.’’
The police had registered a case for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, illegal custody, forgery, abduction and destruction of evidence. However, the FIR has not named any one as the accused.
Police sources said they have been in the process of verifying the statements of 60-odd persons to ensure that the real culprits are booked.
“There have been serious lapses on the part of forest officers while taking Mathai into custody. When the camera was found destroyed, they did not move a police complaint. They had taken Mathai into illegal custody,’’ said a police officer in Pathanamthitta.