Principal's custodial death: HC seeks response

The High Court on Friday asked the Union Home Ministry and J&K Government to respond within four weeks to a plea seeking the Court monitored probe by CBI into custodial death of a teacher from Awantipora area of Pulwama district in March this year.

Hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by Anti- Corruption Council of India Trust through its Managing Director, advocate Kamran Khan, a division bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Rashid Ali Dar issued notices to the Union Ministry, J&K Government through its Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary Home department and Director General of Police.

While Assistant Solicitor General Tahir Shamsi accepted the notice on behalf of the Union Ministry, senior Additional Advocate General, BA Dar accepted the notice for the top state officials, after the Court sought status report in the matter within four weeks.

The plea seeks to quash the magisterial inquiry into the case and directions to Secretary Union Home Ministry, state Home Secretary and J&K DGP to file “Action Taken Report” in light of reports published in various newspapers with regard to death of the teacher, Rizwan Asad Pandith.

A post-graduate in Chemistry, Pandith, who worked as Principal at a local private school, died in police custody in March this year.

“Prisoners have human rights and the prison torture is the confession of the failure to do justice to a living man. For a prisoner, all fundamental rights are an enforceable reality, though restricted by the fact of imprisonment,” the petitioner has pleaded.  Advocate Tawheed Ahmad Sofi appeared on behalf of the petitioner.  

Grounds raised in the PIL

The petitioner has pleaded that Pandith’s death was a “cold-blooded murder as he died in police custody at Srinagar”.

“It is a matter of great concern and also gross violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under articles 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution. It creates suspicion on the acts of police officials, as after three days of the death of Pandith an FIR was lodged against the deceased for an attempt to escape from the police vehicle on way to a location in south Kashmir for searches,” the PIL said.

“…it is surprising and shocking that the FIR has not been lodged in any of the three main police stations of Pulwama district, Awantipora, Pampore and Tral but instead it has been lodged at Khrew police station. The police said that Pandith was picked up in a militancy related case registered at Pantha Chowk, but it is unable to convince how the arrest was made two years after the attack in which both the accused militants were killed. It is also pertinent to mention that Pantha Chowk Police Station is on CCTNS and according to sources no entry was made in the case file,” said the PIL. 

The post mortem report, the PIL said, revealed the Principal had died at least 12 hours before the examination.

The initial post mortem report findings revealed that Pandith died because of “extravasation of blood” – the leakage of blood from a vessel into the surrounding tissues – caused by multiple injuries, it said.

The petitioner has submitted that the Police have also not complied with the requirements of the Supreme Court guidelines as laid in a case titled DK Basu versus Government of West Bengal in 1997 case.

In the judgment delivered in the case the Apex Court had ruled that Police will have to produce any person before the magistrate within 24 hours of his detention, the petitioner said.

“There is gross misuse of power and position on the part of State Government as it failed to answer why probe was first ordered in Srinagar and then shifted to Pulwama. However the custodial death of Pandith occurred in Srinagar district which is itself a prima facie and well conspiracy on the part of State administration and police officials,” the PIL reads, adding more than three months have elapsed but the family of the victim was waiting for justice.

The petitioner informed the Court that he had filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court. However, the Apex Court dismissed the petitioner giving him a liberty to approach J&K High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, he informed the Court.