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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Did Kerala cops indulge in fish theft?

Media reports alleged that two Kerala cops stole expensive fish from fisherfolk and were merely transferred to the neighboring district. Late last year, PV Shihab, a Civil Police Officer (CPO), was caught stealing several kilos of pricy mangoes from a fruit shop near Kottayam on camera. The latest robbery comes within days of CM Pinarayi Vijayan revealing that 251 sexual assault cases were registered against cops in the past six-and-half years. 

Two corrupt policemen were allegedly transferred to Kasargod for stealing fish from a boat seized in Kannur, the chief minister’s district. Though the incident brought shame to the police force, the Home Department avoided humiliation by merely transferring the accused police officers. CM Vijayan oversees the police department and is allegedly known to protect the worst police officers. 

The controversy arose when the police officers assigned as marine guards stole valuable fish from a boat seized by the Marine Enforcement Unit of Kerala police. The unit was started in the background of the Mumbai terror attack to protect the coastline against infiltration, intrusion, and other illegal activities in collaboration with Central and State agencies in Territorial Waters.

A boat from Kozhikode was taken into custody for allegedly breaking the law near Azhikode in Kannur. As per the accused officers, it was allegedly fishing close to the shore at night without lights. Such rules about fishing close to the beach are there to prevent young and baby fish from being harvested too early. These fish venture out into the deep sea later in their lives.

As mentioned, three policemen of the Kannur Marine Enforcement took the boat into custody and brought it close to the beach. Only a Sub-Inspector rank officer is authorized to engage in such seizures. None of the three Kerala Marine Enforcement officers held that rank.

Under darkness, the officers stole Shrimp and Seer Fish worth considerable money from the confiscated boat. Medium-sized shrimp cost Rs.500 per kilo, and Seer Fish around Rs.700. The huge ones never reach the local market and are all exported. Local fisherfolk alleged that police officers regularly indulge in such thefts.

The boat belonged to Thekkethodi Mithun from Puthiyappa fishing harbor near Kozhikode. Puthiyappa is one of the last few harbors in Kerala with a majority presence of Hindus. While Muslims manage the northern ones like Vellayil and Beypore, Christians dominate the south.

We all know what happened to the Vizhinjam coastal police station recently. A Christian mob led by Latin Catholic priests under the guise of protests turned into a full-fledged war in late November 2022.

The emergency and cruelty shown by Kerala police against Hindus during the peaceful Sabarimala protests went missing. Several officers were seriously injured and admitted to hospitals, police vehicles were vandalized, and the police station was destroyed in communal violence. 

Mithun was asked to pay a fine of Rs.90,000, after which he went to take back his boat. To his dismay, he found that the prawns and seer fish were missing. Upon checking the boat’s CCTV footage, Mithun found that the two Kerala police marine guards had stolen them. With the evidence, the boat owner complained to the fisheries department and the police.

Suspiciously the transfer order of the police officers was allegedly issued without mentioning that it was a disciplinary action. The accused police officers were on deputation from Kannur police.

Why were they not suspended or their names revealed? Does greed for money compel Kerala police to commit petty crimes? What happened to the third marine guard who participated in the seizure?

Janam TV reported that the transfer order was discharged by Kannur City Police Commissioner, moving the accused police personnel from Kannur to Kasargod district. Media also added that Deputy Director of Fisheries P K Shiney claimed the Marine Enforcement Division is investigating the complaint of missing fish from the captured boat.

Most police personnel are honest and hardworking officers. Last year, Thalassery Coastal Police and Marine Enforcement rescued three fishermen after the boat ‘Nandanam’ overturned one nautical mile from the shore. The lives of the three were saved by timely rescue operations led by Thalassery Coastal Police Station Inspector of Police Bijuprakash in collaboration with the Marine Enforcement unit. They also regularly team up with colleges and the Fisheries Department as part of the Clean Ocean Beautiful Beach project to tidy up the shoreline.

Kerala Police Atrocities

A lady protestor being grabbed by Kerala Police (Images courtesy MediaOne)

A paranoid Vijayan roams around in bulletproof SUVs with a cavalcade comprising dozens of vehicles. Kerala police are beating up citizens who oppose him left, right, and center. Male police officers are manhandling lady protestors. Hundreds of BJP and Congress workers have been detained under obscure laws.

Last week, Circle Inspector Jijeesh P K, Nadakkavu Station House Officer (SHO) in Kozhikode, was caught on camera punching Vyshnav, a young Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), in the face while he was down on the ground. His fault was his war cry, Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Vyshnav was protesting against Vijayan, who stayed at Kozhikode PWD Guest House.

Local BJP leaders tried to downplay the incident. Still, they were forced to protest when Tamil Nadu BJP President K Annamalai and the national media picked up the footage and began beaming them. Even then, Kerala BJP leaders merely turned cyber warriors and did little to help Vyshnav’s cause.

The young man was not hospitalized, and Kerala police took him to jail. Less than a dozen young BJP workers (leaders were missing again) bailed him out the next day, arranged an ambulance, and shifted him to the hospital. Incidentally, CI Jijeesh is also from Puthiyappa.

In December 2021, HinduPost reported an incident from Taliparamba police station in Kannur, where a police officer used an ATM card belonging to a robbery accused’s sister. The ATM card was with the thief, and the policeman had retained it, citing inquiries. The accused policeman withdrew money from the bank account even after the original accused was remanded and sent to jail. He had tricked the thief’s sister into revealing the PIN.

Though threats made the victims withdraw their complaints, the disgraced officer was dismissed. We reported that Kerala police atrocities against law-abiding citizens while protecting dreaded criminals and terrorists were the current trend in Kerala. The same pattern continues today and has increased exponentially lately.

In September 2022, Kerala police CPO Shihab was returning from duty at Kottayam Medical College Hospital on his scooter when he indulged in mango theft. He discovered a few baskets full of ripe mangoes in front of a closed shop, and stopped his scooter, surveyed the area, donned a raincoat and a helmet, and stole a few kilos of mangoes.

Unfortunately for Shihab, he was being watched but unaware of a nearby CCTV system. Kerala Police allegedly tried to hide the incident, but the footage went viral on social media, and he was suspended. It later emerged that the CPO was accused of several criminal cases, including theft and sexual assault. 

Crime figures after the Pinarayi government began handling law and order since May 2016 are shocking. While replying to a query by MLA Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan in the assembly, Vijayan said that 58 sexual assault cases were registered against Kerala police officers in 2022 alone. 251 sexual assault cases were reported involving police personnel in the past six-and-half years.

As many as 98,870 sexual assault cases and 2,199 murder cases were registered in the state between June 2016 and December 2022. In 2021, 16,199 cases of violence against women were reported, and by 2022, it had increased to 18,952.

Whether these numbers include, Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) and the crimes against young boys remains unknown. A religion-wise list might throw up a few surprises where a particular ‘minority’ is at the forefront, especially regarding atrocities against children.

Under Vijayan’s leadership, Kerala Police’s credibility has hit rock bottom. Unless there is video evidence, suspected officers are not even charged. Even then, most are transferred or suspended and reinstated on the sly.

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