TN Editor R Gopal arrested on Governor’s complaint, Magistrate frees him

Chennai: In what could be the first such case in the country, R. R. Gopal, Editor and Publisher of Tamil magazine Nakkeeran, was on Tuesday arrested under Section 124 of the IPC (assault on President/Governor) on a complaint from the Tamil Nadu Raj Bhavan for publishing certain reports.

However, Metropolitan Magistrate Gopinath, before whom the police produced Gopal, refused to remand him in judicial custody and set him free saying there was no ground to detain him under the said provision. Section 124 of the IPC deals with: “Assaulting President, Governor, etc., with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power”, an offence that could lead to imprisonment up to seven years.

On Saturday last, T Sengottaiyan, Deputy Secretary to Governor, had submitted a complaint to the Chennai Police Commission alleging that since April, Nakkeeran had been publishing reports defaming Governor Banwarilal Purohit by linking him and his office with Nirmala Devi, a suspended assistant professor, who is in jail on charges of attempted trafficking of college girls. The complaint said that the reports are “clearly an expression of intention of inducing or compelling” the Governor “to refrain from exercising his lawful powers as Governor”.

Acting on this complaint, the police registered a complaint on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, a police team arrested Gopal from the Chennai airport, minutes before he could board a flight to Pune, and bundled him into a vehicle and took him to the Chintadripet police station. His arrest drew widespread protests with MDMK leader Vaiko staging a dharna outside the police station and courting arrest. DMK president M K Stalin met Gopal in hospital shortly before he was produced before the Magistrate. CPI state secretary Mutharasan, VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan and veteran journalist N Ram (former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu) joined him in the court where lawyers appealed against his remand.

The Magistrate, on spotting Ram, asked him to present his arguments, to which the journalist replied that he was not a lawyer. But the Magistrate asked him to advance arguments in any case (as a representative of the media) and Ram said Section 124 IPC would not apply in this case. This was the first time the Section was being used, as in the past only Section 124 A IPC (sedition) was used. Ram added that it was unfortunate that the office of the Governor was dragged into an ugly controversy and that the instant case was an assault on the freedom of the speech of expression provided under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. Passing orders the Magistrate said there were no ground to send Gopal to jail and released him.

The Nirmala Devi Case

Nirmala Devi, who was working as assistant professor at the Devanga Arts and Science College in Virudhunagar district in south Tamil Nadu, shot into infamy in mid-April this year when an audio tape containing a purported conversation between her and a group of her students were leaked. In the audio, she was heard cajoling the girls to agree to do “certain favours” for “powerful” people in the Madurai Kamaraj University. In return they were promised seamless academic progression and monetary support. The girls refused to do her bidding.

In the audio, Nirmala was heard saying that she was asking the girls to cooperate for a senior official and that she had contacts at the highest level up to the Governor. Thereafter, she was arrested and has been in jail since. Two academics of the Madurai Kamaraj University were also arrested for aiding and using Nirmala Devi.

While the State Government transferred the case to the Crime Branch CID, Governor Purohit had ordered a parallel inquiry by a retired IAS officer Santhanam in the case. However, the Madras High Court restrained the release of the Santhanam Committee report. In the meanwhile, the vernacular media, including Nakkeeran published, numerous stories, some hinting at the involvement of senior Raj Bhavan officials in the scandal based on unnamed sources.  The CB-CID in its charge-sheet, however, has concluded that Nirmala Devi had attempted to lure the girls only at the behest of the two academics.

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