Kerala Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has clarified in unequivocal terms that there need be no doubts about justice being done and no guilty being protected. The chief minister stated this in response to a query about the reinstatement of young IAS officier Sriram Venkitaraman and posting him as Joint Secretary in the department of health.
Sriram was earlier suspended from service following an accident at 12.55 a.m. on 3rd August 2019, involving him and in which he was charged for reckless driving and the Thiruvananthapuram Bureau chief of Siraj daily, KM Basheer was killed. The chief minister also assuaged journalists that "the government has already made it clear that there is no room for any concern: the government understands the feelings of mediamen, and will not shelter anybody who is guilty". But his response has not apparently convinced the family of the dead, the newspaper where the young journalist had worked, working journalists'union nor even the public consciousness. Although the chief minister has claimed that the reinstatement of Sriram was decided after consultation with the journalists' body, the statement of officials of Kerala Union of Working Journalists does not ratify it. T he management of the newspaper and the family of the late Basheer, have both demanded that the reinstatement of the IAS officer should be revisited.
As a matter of fact, anyone who has examined the background of the case, the finding s of the crime branch team that conducted the probe and the chargesheet filed before the court based on the enquiry, cannot easily swallow the chief minister's clarification. That the hit by the young IAS officer's car running at high speed was the cause of the death of KM Basheer, is established in the report of Crime Branch filed before the Thriruvananthapuram Judicial 1st Class Magistrate. And the court accepted the charge-sheet in which Sriram was listed as the first accused and his fellow-traveller in the car Wafa Firoz as the second. The counts on which he was charged under Indian Penal Code Sections 304, 201 and sections 184, 185 and 188 of the Motor Vehicles Act, i.e. culpable homicide not amounting to murder, destroying evidence, violation of motor vehicles rules, and damaging public property. It was proved in the preliminary tests by the forensic laboratory that Sriram Venkitaraman was driving the car at 120 km per hour. Although Sriram denied the allegation that he was intoxicated, there was the medical report that Sriram had carried a smell of alcohol, as chief minister Pnarayi Vijayan had himself informed the assembly. Even though the accused tried to torpedo the case by deliberately delaying the breath analyser test, witnesses and the fellow-traveller had testified that he was drunk. However, the IAS-IPS bureaucratic combine had been putting heavy pressure for reinstating Sriram.
It is after lapse of six months from suspension that a committee headed by the Chief Secretary recommended taking him back in service. The government had rejected that recommendation and extended the suspension for another three months. And it is the same government that has now cut short his term of suspension and posted him in the health department using the opportunity of the spread of Covid virus. In the context where it is pointed out that since the charge-sheet includes many including doctors and nurses as witnesses, and Sriram being a top official in the same department, chances are high for the case being dismissed. The suspicion that Sriram was drunk at the time of the accident was first recorded by a doctor in Thiruvananthapuram General Hospital. His deposition is crucical in the case. When Sriram occupies a top post in the health department, that is sure to add to the pressure on the doctor in question to retract his statement. And the doctors of the private hospitals, who had stated that Sriram did not agree to the blood test in time, will also be subject to similar influence. In short, when the main evidence in the crime branch enquiry report are all related to the health department, the government's decision to appoint him in that very government arm, substantially weakens the chief minister's assurance that there should not be any apprehension about justice being done. The country abounds in cases where the courts are forced to acquit the accused for want of evidence in numerous high-voltage cases, especially those involving the higher ups because of witnesses turning approvers. If journalist Basheer's murder case is destined to be one among such cases, the resultant blot cannot be washed off by the government's mercy in the form of a job for his widow. It is hoped that however strong be the IAS-IPS lobby may be, Pinarayi Vijayan will not fritter away the opportunity to stay erect without bending before them.