Telangana Police’s Dubious RTI: Twist in Lawyer-Couple Murder Case
Telangana police filed an RTI seeking personal and professional details of the lawyer couple before they were killed
The lawyer uttered a name, apparently of the person who stabbed him, as his senses faded away. Lying face down nearby, was his wife, stabbed and unconscious.
Their dying moments were captured on mobile cameras before bystanders took them to a nearby hospital. The husband died on arrival. The wife was brought dead. The lawyer-couple – Gattu Vamana Rao and his wife P B Nagamani – were killed at Ramagiri, 200 km from Hyderabad, on 17 February. The gruesome murder has shocked people across the country, and especially the lawyer fraternity.
But now a twist in the case has emerged. There are questions about the Telangana police.
The Quint has gathered that, way before the murder, the state police had filed an RTI to keep a watch on the couple, perhaps not to their benefit.
A favour from the police to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi functionaries? On 18 February, in connection with the murder the police have arrested Kunta Srinivas, Manthani mandal president of the TRS and his aides Chiranjeevi and Akkapaka Kumar. An attempt to silence the couple for filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against a custodial death in Manthani police station? Police filed the RTI one week after Telangana High Court asked them “not to harass” the lawyers.
‘T’ Police Files an RTI
On 18 September, 2020, the bar council of Telangana got a peculiar request from Circle Inspector (CI) of Manthani Police Station of Pedapalli district. The police wanted to know the educational qualifications of the lawyers, Vamana Rao and Nagamani. They also sought to know whether the couple was enrolled with the state’s bar council. “Have they suspended their memberships with the bar council?” the RTI petition asked.
Meaning, the police wanted to know whether they had the protection of the bar council of Telangana.
The police also asked whether the couple had any criminal cases pending against them. They wanted to know whether the bar council had received any complaints against the couple.
Officially, the Telangana police were keeping a close watch.
Why File the RTI?
Was the Telangana police keeping a discreet eye on the lawyer-couple? Why was the Telangana police interested in the details of their lives? Was the Telangana police aware that their lives may have been in danger, and looked away? Was this a factor that contributed to making the lawyer-couple vulnerable to a grievous attack?
The state police’s trouble with the couple date back to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that advocate Nagamani had filed before Telangana High Court on 26 May, 2020. The lawyer brought to the attention of the court that a Dalit man Seelam Rangaiah had allegedly died due to custodial torture at Manthani police station on the same day.
Following this PIL, the court on 27 May asked Hyderabad Commissioner of Police, Anjani Kumar to submit a report on Rangaiah’s death. While the police submitted a confidential report within a week, Nagamani approached the court on 11 September, 2020 accusing the police of harassing her husband and herself. On the same day the court ordered Director General of Police Telangana to ensure that the lawyer couple are not “harassed by the police” while their case is “sub judice before the court”.
Within one week Manthani police filed the RTI to the barcouncil of Telangana seeking personal details of the couple.
“The couple had filed several public interest litigations before the High Court alerting the benches about land grabbing deals in Telangana and an illegal temple construction in Pedapalli. However, it was when they filed a complaint about Rangaiah’s custodial death that they got the most flak. They approached the bar council with a complaint against the police,” a senior office bearer at the bar council of Telangana told The Quint.
Nagamani Makes a Request in Vain
A week after the police filed the RTI in September 2020, advocate Nagamani approached the bar council asking officers not to divulge her personal details. “She came to the council office and told us that the police were harassing her and her husband. She requested us not to reveal the details sought by the police,” the council official confirmed.
The council, however, did not withhold information.
“We sent a reply to the RTI application on 17 October. We could not have withheld the information because under the RTI act we are obligated to divulge information sought by the public and public authorities,” the officer said. However, chairman of Telangana’s bar council Narasimha Reddy told The Quint that he “was not aware of any threat to the couple’s lives” till they were killed. Nagamani had registered with the bar council in 2015 and Rao registered in 2019.
The bar council of Telangana has condemned the incident.
Lawyers Accuse Police of Vendetta
Lawyers of Telangana High Court staged a protest for two consecutive days to condemn the murder.
“Police have failed in their duties because they knew of enmities between the accused and the victims and did not protect the latter. Instead, they went about harassing them despite a High Court ruling which asked them not to,” said L Ravichander, senior advocate of Telangana High Court.
When contacted Anjani Kumar, Hyderabad’s Commissioner of Police who was mentioned in the 2020 writ petition did not want to comment as the case “does not fall in” his jurisdiction.
Manthani police officers were not available for comment on the RTI they filed. The Director General of Police Telangana has not responded to The Quint’s email queries. The report will be updated if they reply to the queries.
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