Palakkad: The Forest Department of Kerala is taking a tough stance against its employees who make it difficult to get justice for Madhu, the tribal youth who was lynched at Attappadi in Palakkad district four years ago.
The department has so far removed four of its workers from the nominal muster roll for turning hostile witnesses during the trial in the case, which is in progress at a special court in Mannarkad. The four witnesses were employed as forest watchers on daily wages.
Three of them – Kali, Anilkumar and Razaq – were sacked recently while the fourth one – Sunilkumar – lost his job on Wednesday.
Action was taken against all four on the same day they turned hostile before the SC/ST(POA) Special Court.
While Kali, Anilkumar and Razaq were sacked by Attappadi range officer Sumesh C, the action against Sunilkumar was taken by the officer in charge of the Silent Valley division. The officers have cited failure to discharge assigned duties as the reason for removing them from their jobs.
Since the daily wage staffers are appointed by the officers concerned as per requirement, they can be removed based on the discretion of the authorities. The nominal muster roll watchers are not considered as government employees, hence service rules are not applicable for their removal.
Kali, Anilkumar and Razaq were on duty at Pottikkal Teak Plantation inside the Attappadi forests when Madhu was picked by a group of local people from a spot nearby.
“Kali, Anilkumar and Razaq are also witnesses in another case registered by the Forest Department against 12 accused on charges of trespassing into the forest area (to pick up Madhu). During the investigation into the case, they had deposed before us that they saw the accused bringing Madhu from inside the forest. According to their statements, they had seen Hayarunnisa, a woman employed to cook food for the workers at the plantation, give water to Madhu. However, during the trial, they retracted their statements,” range officer Sumesh told Onmanorama. Sumesh, along with some of his colleagues in the forest department, is also a witness in the case.
Sunilkumar was on duty near the checkpost at Bhavanipuzha when the incident occurred. He had told the police investigation team that he had seen the accused parading Madhu. However, on Wednesday, he told the trial court that he could not recognise those in the video played as evidence.
Sunilkumar himself is seen in the video, according to the prosecution. The court ordered an eye test of Sunilkumar while declaring him hostile. It turned out that his eyesight is perfect and it remains to be seen how the medical report would influence the trial.
The court’s order as well as the government’s action are seen as a step to prevent the remaining witnesses from turning hostile. Along with Sunilkumar, another witness, Deepu, also turned hostile on Wednesday. So far, 16 prosecution witnesses have turned hostile, leaving the fate of the case that rocked the state uncertain.
Gokul, another daily-wage forest watcher, meanwhile has stood by his statement in the court in favour of the prosecution.
The superintendent of police (SP), Palakkad, had written a letter to the district forest officer seeking action against the employees who had retracted their statement before the court. The forest department, however, initiated the action before the police instruction, sources said.
The trial resumed weeks after the Kerala High Court reversed the special court’s order cancelling the bail of 12 accused found to have tried to influence the witnesses. There are 16 accused in the case.
The special court at Mannarkkad had cancelled the bail of 12 accused on August 20, pointing out that while granting bail to the accused, the high court had instructed them not to try to influence the witnesses in any manner.
The high court stayed the Mannarkad court’s order on August 24 after the accused challenged the lower court’s directive.
Madhu - a tribal youth from Chindakki hamlet near Mukkali, Attappadi - was killed by a group of locals alleging regular theft on February 22, 2018. However, the trial could not begin for four years for various reasons, including the refusal of special prosecutors to take up the case.
When Madhu's family protested, the government appointed C Rajendran as a special public prosecutor. However, he was removed and replaced by his deputy Rajesh M Menon based on the request by the victim’s family when the witnesses started turning hostile.