Sivarajan Commission went beyond its brief on solar scam: Ex-DGP Hemachandran

Former Director-General of Police A Hemachandran
Former Director-General of Police A Hemachandran. Photo: Manorama

Former Director-General of Police A Hemachandran was the friendly face of the Kerala Police. His service story, Neethi Evide? (Where is Justice) is now being debated even before its launch.

Hemachandran, who headed the Special Investigation Team that probed the 2013 multi-crore solar panel scam that shook the previous Congress-led United Democratic Government (UDF) government in Kerala, minces no words while criticising the Justice G Sivarajan Commission.

The Commission constituted to probe the scam, went beyond its brief and chased sleazy details of the scam, says the former police officer.

Hemachandran, also a member of a High Court-constituted monitoring committee tasked with overseeing the law and order issues at Sabarimala, does not hesitate to question the state police's failure in handling the situation that arose after the Supreme Court's September 28, 2018 order, allowing women of child-bearing age — defined as those aged between 10 and 50 — to enter the hill shrine of the celibate god, Lord Ayyappa.

Excerpts from an interview with Hemachandran:

What were the circumstances that led you to make harsh comments against Justice G Sivarajan Commission?

It is not personal. The Commission prepared the report over four years and spent a substantial amount. Still, it became invalid after the High Court criticised it. I felt I should open up against this backdrop.

The Commission termed the preparation of the report a classic event. However, the report is a classic example of how a probe commission shouldn't function. It was the High Court that expunged several parts of the report, saying they infringed upon the citizen's rights, such as privacy and dignity.

While examining the witness, the Commission described the prime accused's physical features and her style of dressing. "Will you forget such a person after seeing her once?", the Commission asked me. I replied that 'I would remember if I had a prolonged interaction with the person'.  

'Is this the way to reply? We will never forget,' the Commission concluded.

Some questions were beyond common sense. One of the prime accused in the case told the scam victims that he was the classmate of Kashmir's former chief minister Omar Abdullah. It is common sense that he had lied. He was not even a graduate and was accused of several cheating cases. There was no need to investigate to realise that he was lying.

But the Commission wanted to know why we didn't question Abdullah.

The accused had been convicted in several states for cheating. But for the Commission, they (the accused persons) were credible 'star' witnesses. The report mentioned them as 'educated young entrepreneurs'. The Commission followed the path the accused pointed out.

Justice G Sivarajan. Photo: Manorama

How do you view the government's actions based on the Commission report?

Initially, the government took steps without confirming the legal validity of the report. I was painted as a troublesome officer and was shunted out of the office of the Additional Director-General of Police (Crime Branch). I was posted as the Managing Director of the Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC), where nothing worse could have happened irrespective of how inept any top official is.  

My transfer did not affect me. But the government also transferred four highly efficient Deputy Superintendents of Police (DySPs) too. It worried me. I wrote to the DGP and Home Secretary saying if there were any failures in the investigation, the responsibility is solely mine.

When Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced my transfer based on the Commission report, I was at the Crime Branch Headquarters. I came to know of the transfer through the television. But the chief minister supported me while I was heading the KSRTC. Later, he spoke to me at the Cliff House before transferring me to the Fire Force as its DGP. I enjoyed his support in the Fire Force as well.

Oommen Chandy. File photo: Manorama

Oommen Chandy was not arraigned as an accused. Did it go against you? Were there political interventions during the probe into the solar scam?

There were allegations against the team for not making Oommen Chandy an accused. But we included only the probe findings in the report submitted to the court. I was the ADGP (South Zone) when I was made the head of the investigation team. I was not consulted before the appointment. Also, I did not choose the team members; the government did.

There were no interventions from the ruling front at any stage of the investigation. I never received a call from Oommen Chandy, the then-chief minister. We did not find any difficulty in recording his statement either. We called his private secretary to fix an appointment. We — two DySPs and I — took a police vehicle to the Cliff House to record his statement.

It was not secretive. There were visitors when we reached the Cliff House. We had prepared the questions in advance, and the chief minister, clad in a lungi, patiently replied. However, this became news months later when the Advocate General submitted it before the High Court.

The Chief Minister's Office expelled a staff member and suspended his gunman based on the preliminary probe report. The report was prepared based on evidence. There was no opposition or intervention by the ruling front in these matters.

The CMO staff member was arrested the day the chief minister returned from the Middle East after receiving an award for good governance, and it became a controversy, too. Was the Home Department aware of the arrest in advance?

The law says that there should be no delay in recording the arrest once the investigators get clear evidence (against a suspect). However, we were a bit confused over whether to seek approval from the Home Minister, Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan. The law does not mandate seeking the home minister's approval. I have been close to Thiruvanchoor even before he became the minister.

Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan
Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan

However, if he denies permission to arrest the suspect, it would be our failure. So, the investigation team decided to arrest the CMO staff member without seeking anyone's permission. It was a mere coincidence that he was arrested the day the chief minister returned, and it became a huge controversy.  

Thiruvanchoor called me that night, and his disappointment was clear in his voice. I offered to step down if my actions have caused trouble for him. He told me not even to think about it.

What was the Commission's approach towards you?

I knew Justice G Sivarajan ever since he took charge as the chairman of the Police Complaint Authority Chairman. I have appeared before the Commission as a witness four-five times. He was friendly initially. However, his attitude changed when he felt that I was not giving the replies he wanted to hear.

I based my replies on the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Constitution, and several court rulings. After a stage, he did not hide his displeasure in hearing such words. He summoned me after the LDF government assumed power. He might have felt that my approach would have changed with the change in government. But my disposition was based on conviction and legality. He evaluated the probe team as troublemakers.

The major allegation against the police was the investigators could not find the letter the prime accused had written. The Commission included it in its report.  

What made you say that the police action at Sabarimala was a failure?

The High Court constituted the monitoring committee, comprising two former judges besides myself when the post-Supreme Court scenario caused difficulties to the devotees. But the government and the police were opposed to the High Court authorising the committee to prevent violence from any side.

Sabarimala Temple
Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala. Photo: Nikhilraj P/Manorama

My first step was to meet and discuss the matter with DGP Loknath Behera. I was opposed to providing special cover to those trying to take young women to the temple. I suggested providing general protection to the pilgrims. But the DGP felt that if special protection was not provided to young women trying to visit the temple, it would amount to contempt of court. I was opposed to it.

The police were in a tight spot at Sabarimala, caught between two opposing factions: One favouring young women entering the temple, and the other opposed to it. The official arrangements caused many difficulties for the pilgrims. Sannidhanam was flooded with police personnel. The police were deployed as if to take on guerillas. Several actions were provocative.

The vehicles of pilgrims were allowed till Nilackel, but the police allowed the vehicle of Mannethi Sangham from Tamil Nadu past Nilackel. It aggravated the situation, and the monitoring committee was forced to intervene. I expressed my opinion when I met the chief minister. But he might have received a different input from the police.

However, the police got it wrong at Sabarimala where all sorts of political agendas were at play. Sneaking in two young women would neither implement the court order nor ensure gender equality. It is not honourable policing. They sought a shortcut. The police termed those opposed to women's entry as religious fanatics in its report submitted to the High Court.  

The official perception was wrong: those opposing women's entry become fanatics and the High Court-appointed committee becomes a threat to law and order when the basic perspective goes wrong. 

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