The Madras High Court on Monday permitted the Tamil Nadu government to transfer the Sathankulam case of the custodial deaths of a father-son duo to the Central Bureau of Investigation, Bar and Bench reported. However, a bench comprised of Justices PN Prakash and B Pugalendhi said the decision to transfer the case was the prerogative of the state government.

“While we appreciate the deference shown to this court by the state government, we make it clear that, to transfer or not to transfer the case to the CBI, is the policy decision of the state government and such a transfer is governed by the provisions of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946,” the court observed.

The police took Jayaraj and his son Bennix into custody on June 19 for interrogation, as they had kept their mobile accessories shop open during the coronavirus-induced lockdown in Thoothukudi. A case was filed against them for not following the curfew under lockdown, and they were sent to custody. On June 22, Bennix complained of breathing problems and was admitted to a local government-run hospital. He died around 9 pm. Jayaraj, who was also hospitalised due to an illness, died the next day. The family of the duo accused the police of assaulting them in custody.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had said on Sunday that the state government will transfer the inquiry to the CBI. Palaniswami had told reporters that the approval of the Madras High Court will be sought before transferring the case.

On June 25, the Madras High Court had sought a report from the police. On June 24, the Madurai bench of the court had decided to suo motu monitor the case.

The bench on Monday issued directions to facilitate the process of transfer of the case to the CBI. It ordered the registrar (judicial) to take photocopies of the preliminary autopsy certificates. It said that the original certificates should be sent to the chief judicial magistrate of Thoothukudi in a sealed cover.

The court also directed that the police case files pertaining to the original case against Jayaraj and Bennix, and the files on their custodial deaths, should be handed over to the Thoothukudi chief judicial magistrate, who will forward them to the CBI’s investigating officer in the case.