Kerala HC rejects petition against bail to IAS officer

Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea seeking cancellation of the bail granted to suspended IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman, who was arrested for alleged drunken driving that caused the death of a journalist. Dismissing the plea moved by the state government, challenging a magistrate court’s order granting bail to Venkitaraman, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan said there was no need for the officer’s custodial interrogation in connection with the case.

The court also observed that there was no material evidence to suggest that the IAS officer was drunk while driving. It, however, held that there were faults in the police probe in the case. The police did not display professionalism in probing the case, the court said, adding that there was a delay on the part of the investigation officer in collecting the blood sample of Venkitaraman.

The high court had, on August 7, refused to stay the magistrate court’s order granting bail to the suspended Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. In its appeal, the Kerala government had sought cancellation of the bail granted to him by the Judicial Magistrate’s (First Class) court at Thiruvananthapuram. The magistrate’s court had, on August 6, granted bail to Venkitaraman, after considering his blood samples report, which was found negative for alcohol content, and the case diary of the police.

Venkitaraman, who was treated at the Government Medical College Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, was discharged on Monday. In its appeal, the state government had alleged that 32-year-old Venkitaraman had misled the police and tried to destroy evidence of his alcohol consumption. Stating that the investigation was at a preliminary stage, the government had contended that granting bail at this juncture for a serious offence of this nature had prejudiced the probe.

The bail was granted without considering the gravity of the offence and also, there were sufficient ingredients and material to constitute an offence under section 304 (part II) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), dealing with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, it had said. The government had said the magistrate’s court had failed to appreciate that Venkitaraman was a qualified doctor and a highly influential Kerala-cadre IAS officer.

Narrating the sequence of events on the night of the accident, the government had said immediately, the officer had misled the police by giving a false statement that the vehicle was being driven by his friend Wafa, its registered owner. The IAS officer was arrested on August 3, hours after the luxury car driven by him allegedly in an inebriated condition while returning from a private party knocked down journalist K Muhammed Basheer, killing him on the spot. Venkitaraman was later remanded to 14 days of judicial custody. The government had, on August 6, suspended the officer, who was serving as the survey director. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) has been constituted to probe the case. Basheer (35), the Thiruvananthapuram bureau chief of Malayalam daily “Siraj”, was on his way home from work when the incident took place at around 1 am on August 4.