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|November 18, 1997||
Why does acid attack accused want to languish in jail?N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
Did someone force Sudalaimuthu alias Surla to make confessional statements in the controversial Chandralekha acid attack case? Why was he implicating himself as the number one accused in the case when the CBI has cleared him of the charge?
While earlier suspicious had centered around some All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leaders, current indications are that leaders of some other political party, associated with the ongoing case, may have ''inspired'' the confession.
The investigation in this direction, if taken to its logical conclusion, can demolish political careers, said a knowledgeable source.
As it is of no immediate consequence to the acid attack case, the CBI seems to have no reason to follow up in this direction.
Bombay-based rowdy Surla, originally a native of south Tamil Nadu, was dropped from the list of accused by the CBI when his bail application came up for hearing before Justice M Karpagavinagam of the Madras high court early last week. According to the CBI, Surla had taken the place of a now-wanted accused, Manjit Singh Bali, who is absconding.
The CBI, incidentally, registered the case after Chandralekha, a former IAS officer who is at present the Tamil Nadu unit president of Subramanian Swamy's Janata Party, moved the Supreme Court. Following an acid attack on her while in service in May 1992, Chandralekha sought a CBI probe, saying that she was not satisfied with the investigation being done by the state under Jayalalitha's chief ministership.
Under the apex court's direction, the CBI got Surla's statement recorded 'in camera' at a Madras court, and it is still lying in a sealed cover for over a year.
But leaked versions of the statement, as also Surla's earlier confessional statement to the state police, had implicated not only himself but also a few politicians and industrialists close to the AIADMK dispensation.
''Why is it that Surla allowed himself to be implicated in the case when he was not the accused?'' asked the source. ''It's hence pertinent, given the political angle involved in the case, that the truth comes out: who paid what to whom, if at all, for Surla to make himself the scapegoat?' Or, was it a case of unkept promises?
What is equally surprising is Surla's attack on trial magistrate P N Krishnamurthy in the court last month. He had been taken to the court for a routine extension of his judicial custody.
''True, Surla has been in prison without bail or trial for nearly five years and has every reason to feel frustrated about it,'' said the source. ''Yet, would he not have known that he would invite a contempt of court case and an assault charge because of this? After all, as the one involved, he would have known the direction in which the CBI's investigations were going, and would have jeopardised his own chances of early freedom by assaulting the judge.''
This means the continued confinement of Surla in prison, and his transfer to the custody of the state police. Under the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham dispensation, the police is also keen on knowing the whole truth. ''Does it mean that Surla feels safer inside the prison, than outside, where he should belong following the CBI stand?'' said the source.
Doubts are also expressed in this regard about the local media's reports of Surla suffering from AIDS.
In the light of the CBI case, it is now argued that his quarantine in a hospital might have been done to keep off people interested in contacting him, or silencing him.
As for the acid attack case itself, the CBI team is said to be interested in interrogating a few state police officers who had handled the case earlier.
The CBI has reportedly found a lot of holes in the state police probe, and also some questionable conduct by some of them. For one thing, even after the first confessional statement of Surla, who was had been transferred to the Tamil Nadu police by their Maharashtra counterparts, no chargesheet was filed for 90 days, leading to his bail. It is only after his subsequent surrender that he has been languishing in prison.
The sources also refer to a lower-level state police official writing to the Maharashtra police that they did not require Manjit Singh 'Bali' any more in the case, though he was in the Bombay police's custody.
It is not known whether this policeman wrote the letter on his own, or under oral instructions, either from his superiors or political masters. The CBI is probing this angle as well.
Incidentally, it was on the information, reportedly provided by Subramanian Swamy to the Bombay police, that Surla came to be arrested in the acid attack case.
A former AIADMK minister E Madhusoodhanan came to be detained by the CBI for interrogation last year, but was let off in the absence of any corroborative evidence from a Coimbatore-based textile merchant, then under custody but now at large.
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