The Principal District Court of Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu, on 15 September, sentenced two illicit sand miners who murdered a Village Administrative Officer (VAO) for attempting to stop the illegal sand mining in the Tamirabarani River, to life imprisonment.
On 25 April, Morappanadu VAO Lourdhu Francis (56) was hacked to death with deadly weapons while he was in his office.
With multiple injuries on his head, shoulders, stomach, and arms, the VAO was rushed to Tirunelveli Medical College Government Hospital, where he was declared dead.
Morappanadu police registered a case based on the complaint by Marshal, son of the deceased VAO.
Trial of the case
The assailants, Ramasubramanian and Marimuthu, were arrested by the police and were tried in Srivaikundam Judicial Magistrate Court and later the case was transferred to the Thoothukudi Sessions Court.
After a charge sheet, the final report was filed against the two accused based on the statements of 31 witnesses.
Sessions Judge M Selvam held that both the accused were guilty and convicted them based on the scientific evidence produced by the police.
Relying upon the blood stains and fingerprints collected at the spot of the murder, the sessions judge said that the blood group of the deceased, O+, matched with the blood stains in the murder weapons and the fingerprints of the accused were present on the weapons.
Further, the judge took the statements of the eyewitnesses, confirmed the presence of the accused at the crime spot, and held that the prosecution had proved its case.
Further, the court found the accused guilty under Sections 449, 302 and 506 (2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and ordered life imprisonment for both the accused. The judge also slapped a fine of ₹3,000 each on both.
Motive of the Murder
Francis, a resident of Soosaipandiapuram near Pudukottai, used to continuously monitor illegal sand mining and took action against the miners. Both the accused were caught by the VAO in October 2022 and were reported to the police for mining sand in the Tamirabarani River.
Following this, the police remanded the accused, who were later set out on bail.
Following this, the police recorded them as history sheeters and detained them under the Goonda Act. Later, both the accused had to execute a bond stating that they would not be involved in illegal sand mining.
This is said to be the trigger that led to attempts being made on the life of the VAO.
Special Officer to monitor case
After the murder, the then Inspector General (IG) of South Zone Asra Garg, deputed a DSP-level officer, N Suresh, as a special officer to monitor the case.
Several public interest litigations were filed in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court to transfer the case investigation to the CBI. However, the high court ordered the Tamil Nadu police to continue investigating the case and also directed the lower court to expedite the case hearing.
The police had conducted an identification parade, collected more material evidence, and scientifically approached the case.
While Francis was the VAO of Adichanallur — a world-famous excavation village — he retrieved government poramboke (government lands) land from encroachment.
The land was earmarked to construct a museum to display artefacts excavated from the Adichanallur excavations. Following this, the encroachers attempted to kill Francis.