The issue of the arrest,in 2010,of the owner and editor of a newspaper and his journalist son has escalated into a confrontation between the Tamil Nadu government and the Press Council of India,so much so that the press watchdog has sought the J Jayalalithaa regimes resignation if it finds itself unable to run the administration in accordance with the Constitution.
The government,to placate the PCI,has persuaded the complainants to withdraw four of the six charges related to alleged extortion against the newspapermen and dropped another on grounds of mistaken facts.
But the PCI is keen to make an example of the case to press for stringent action against police and civil officials for levelling false charges even though the editor,S Manimaran,has moved an application to withdraw his complaint against the state of Tamil Nadu.
The state is now exploring options to stonewall the PCI order to act against 30 police personnel who behaved undemocratically and illegally in arresting the editor and his son.
The case dates from July 2010,when Thinaboomi,a pro-AIADMK newspaper,exposed,based on records provided by an RTI activist,illegal granite quarrying near Madurai. Soon after the report was published,IG S S Krishnamoorthy received a complaint from Madurai Granite Quarry Owners Association chief P Periasami that Manimaran had demanded money for not publishing reports on quarrying. And though he was paid Rs 5 lakh,he published false and misleading reports about mining.
Manimaran and his son M Muthiah were arrested the next day on charges,among others,of extortion,robbery,obscene acts in public and wrongful restraint. Sources in Chennai and Madurai said the arrest of the editor and his son was ordered by N Suresh Babu alias Pottu Suresh,a close aide of Alagiri who was hacked to death in January this year. And after he was arrested,five more complaints of extortion were lodged against Manimaran.
Manimaran complained to the PCI,on July 30,that he was being harassed by law enforcement agencies at the instance of the then DMK government and then union minister M K Alagiri.
The state later dropped all charges except those related to singing an obscene song in public and for wrongful restraint and the two men were bailed out,but the PCI was not satisfied.
However,though Manimaran filed the complaint in 2010,it was taken up in earnest by the PCI only after the DMK lost power. In February 2012,the PCI held that the allegations made in the complaint appeared,prima facie,to be actionable and took adverse note of the Madurai district collectors assertion that a PCI panel could not probe the matter. The PCI then asked the home secretary and the collector to respond to issues raised in the complaint.
The orders,however,were not complied with,the PCI observed on April 5 this year. In our opinion,if the Tamil Nadu government finds itself unable to run the administration in accordance with the Constitution,it has no right to continue in office and should quit. Hence,we direct the Tamil Nadu government to either submit its resignation or,if it does not wish to do so,it must immediately give orders of arrest,chargesheeting and suspending of those thirty police personnel who behave in this highly undemocratic and illegal manner towards the complainant and his son (sic), the PCI said.
It added,It seems that a large section of policemen in this country thinks that they are living in British time when they can act in high-handed and undemocratic manner and civil liberties of citizens guaranteed by the fundamental rights in our Constitution. It is time that they are taught a lesson how to behave in a democratic manner (sic).
That same day,the editor sought permission to withdraw the complaint but the decision was kept pending while the home secretary,the Madurai collector and representatives of the government and the police were directed to appear before the PCI panel with the action taken report.
Senior police officials maintain that the issue is not as simple. Thinaboomi,they say,is not just a pro-AIADMK newspaper but is aligned with Jayalalithaa. Also,four complainants refused to withdraw extortion genuine complaints against Manimaran. This put officials in a fix. On the one side,there is severe pressure after the extremely critical comments made by the PCI. And on the other,we are duty bound to register a case and file an FIR on every complaint which has been stressed by the Supreme Court time and again.
However,senior officials said the state government was unlikely to act against the officials unless exhausting all options to resist the PCI order.