SP suspended for Facebook arrests, magistrate shunted


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MUMBAI: Nearly a week after two Palghar girls were unnecessarily summoned to the police station and arrested for an innocuous facebook post, the government is suspending the superintendent of police (Thane rural) Ravindra Sengaonkar. In a separate development, the Bombay high court on Monday transferred Ramchandra Bagade, the first-class judicial magistrate at Palghar who had given the girls bail of Rs 15,000 each.

Government officials said Palghar senior police inspector Shrikant Pingle would also be suspended and additional superintendent of police (Thane rural) Sangram Nishandar would escape with a strong warning. The action against the cops comes after a sustained campaign in TOI against the arrests of Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Shrinivasan, both 21. Sources said this is the biggest action against high-ranking police officers in Maharashtra in the recent past.

Dhada had lamented in a facebook post the November 18 shutdown due to Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Shrinivasan had ’liked’ the post. Though Dhada didn’t name Thackeray, the local Sena chief complained against the girls and the cops arrested the duo on November 19, which kicked off a nationwide furore over the attack on freedom of speech. Moreover, only on November 20 did cops arrest the vandals who caused Rs 20 lakh worth of damage at Shaheen’s uncle’s hospital on November 18, despite her taking down her post and apologizing that day itself.

The actions of Bagade had been recently questioned by former chief information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi, who asked why the magistrate hadn’t seen the absurdity of the charges against the girls and thrown out the case. Bagade, who had also given bail of Rs 7,500 each to 10 hospital vandals, has been transferred to Jalgaon with immediate effect.

Sengaonkar’s suspension comes after the government spent days dithering on taking action against the cops. Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and home minister R R Patil had promised action on Thursday, but an inquiry report by special inspector general (Konkan) Sukhwinder Singh was ready only on Friday. It indicted the three cops for not taking action at the appropriate time and called for appropriate administrative action against the police officials who handled the case ineptly. However, Singh’s factual report didn’t specify the action. Additional chief secretary (home) Amitabh Rajan recommended suspending Sengaonkar and Pingle and warning Nishandar.

On Monday, government officials blamed the delay in taking action on the statewide alert that had been issued due to the anniversary of the 26/11 attacks.

Singh’s report, which was submitted to the DGP, confirmed that there was absolutely no justification for arresting the two young women under either sections 295A or 505-2 of the IPC and Section 66A of the IT Act. The two girls were first booked under 295-A (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) and IT Act section 66A (sending a grossly offensive message through a communication device). Later, 295A was dropped and replaced with 505-2 (promoting enmity, hatred or ill will).

After the arrests, DGP Sanjeev Dayal immediately submitted a preliminary report to Rajan saying there appeared to be high-handedness on the part of the police and the arrests appeared unwarranted. Union telecom and IT minister Kapil Sibal and minister of state for communications and IT Milind Deora also condemned the arrests.

Chavan appointed Singh to probe the episode on November 19. All along, both Chavan and home minister R R Patil, while admitting that the Palghar police had exceeded their brief, maintained that once the IG’s report was received stern action would be taken against the erring officials. "We have taken the arrests of the two women very seriously. We will take stern action against the erring police officials. We will take such action that they will remember for life," Patil said.

However, till Monday there was no sign of any action being taken. The Union home ministry stepped in on Friday, with a joint secretary in the ministry asking the state home department to immediately submit the inquiry report and details of the action taken against erring police officials.

Singh recommended dropping the charges against the girls. His report was processed by Rajan and submitted to Patil on Saturday. "Amitabh Rajan endorsed the views expressed by Sukhwinder Singh and has recommended stringent action against the police officials indicted in the report," a senior home department bureaucrat said on Monday.

Commenting on the suspension, senior counsel Amit Desai said, "Whilst the suspension is certainly welcome, what would be appreciated is that, before the issue becomes stale in the public’s mind, final action is also taken. Since it is only a proper stringent action taken by the state that alone will send a message to other officers not to act in haste in matters of registration of such FIRs or makes such incorrect arrests. Final action should be quick and strong so that the message goes out that police too must face consequences for their hasty and unjustifiable acts.


Comments on this Article
Jossey Saldanha, Mangalore/Mapusa/Mumabi Tue, November-27-2012, 9:08
I wonder why our educated Karnataka guys so scared about uneducated Bajrang Dal, Rama Sena and HJV......
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