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Thursday 9 April 2020

Kattakada murder: CM promises action against police ‘if guilty’

Suspected members of the local sand mafia killed Sangeeth Balan on 24 January when he caught them redhanded stealing from his property

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UDF MLAs walked out of the Kerala Assembly on Monday, protesting against the laxity of the policemen whose alleged indifference led to the killing of a young man near Kattakada when he objected to illegal mining of sand in the premises of his house.

Chief Minister P Vijayan has conceded that the police action left a lot to be desired. He assured the assembly that strict action would be taken against policemen found lax in the discharge of their responsibility. He said the ongoing inquiry into the incident must establish the police were found wanting in their job.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala said that Nedumangad deputy superintendent of police was unable to complete the investigation. Chennithala said the officer could not submit a report on the incompetent police force 10 days since the incident. He questioned the government’s laidback attitude in taking action despite the preliminary information suggesting that the police responded too late to the call from Sangeeth’s family.

Chennithala said that Sangeeth, who had returned to Kerala after several years of work as a migrant labourer, was the third NRI who was killed. Earlier, two other migrants, Sugathan of Kollam and Sajan of Kannur, had committed suicide, unable to withstand trade unions’ coercion and authorities’ apathy.

Enumerating the cases of violent crimes in the last few months in Kerala, Chennithala said the state had become a safe haven for the sand mafia and other goons.

The Kattakada murder

Sangeeth Balan was in his hatchery unit at Kaliyal in Kanyakumari district, bordering Tamil Nadu, when a bunch of hoodlums attacked his residence at Ambalathinkala near Kattakada around 12:30 past midnight of 24 January. His wife Sangeetha alerted him, saying some strangers had barged into their premises and were extracting sand from behind their house using earthmovers.

Earlier, Sangeeth had allowed the forest department to take sand from his 30 cents land to build the Keezharoor Kadavu bridge located near his residence. But on both occasions, the authority informed Sangeeth before taking sand from his property.

This time, given the odd hour past midnight, Sangeeth suspected it may be the sand mafia. He immediately called his wife to inform the police and rushed to their residence. When he arrived, some men were loading sand from his property onto three trucks using an earthmover.

Without seeking anybody’s help, Sangeeth managed to make the labourers stop the digging. He parked his car on the way to his house to block the earthmover’s passage out of his premises. He came out of the car and asked the JCB driver to shut down the engine.

But the JCB driver hit Sangeeth’s head with the earthmover arm. The attackers fled from the spot on hearing some commotion of neighbours who then took him to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead. “When some strangers entered our premises, I was afraid. I could see only three or four persons working on the site behind our kitchen. At the time, only my two children and I were present in the house. I had no other choice. I called Sangeeth. The police were indifferent. They did not immediately reach us. If they had alerted me, my husband’s life could have been saved.”Sangeetha told The New Indian Express.

Police deny nexus with sand mafia

Local residents allege that a nexus between the police and the sand mafia led to the brutal murder. “Police came to the scene after an hour when Sangeeth was moved to the hospital. Kattakada Police Station is just 7 km from the crime scene. Sangeetha called the police to catch the attackers before Sangeeth reached their house. The police could have been easily reached long before the murder. The sand mafia may have influenced the police not to interfere in the matter. The police are deliberately clear in helping the suspects,” Sivasuthan Nair, a close relative of Sangeeth, said.

However, the Kattakada police denied the allegations and said that they reached the spot on time. “We got a call around 12:50 AM and we reached the spot at 1:30 AM. So there was no delay. I have nothing to say about the allegations by the local people that we connive with the sand mafia. This is completely untrue,” Kattakada Chief Inspector D Bijukumar said.

Hapless family

Praveen Nair, the brother-in-law of the victim and an NRI, wrote to Sirf News via WhatsApp: “Either my property or relative back in my home country in Kerala, India, is not safe. Recently, as you all know, the land mafia has killed my brother-in-law Sangeth Kattakada and destroyed his and my wife’s property. I request all of you to ensure that this does not happen to anyone, any NRI; my local number is *******651.”

Nair told Sirf News he suspected the hand of two members of the sand mafia Sajju and Utthaman who had recently had a brush with the law. Nair said while a few officers are cooperating with the victim’s family, there are others who are hand-in-glove with the sand mafia.

Neighbours and relatives say Sangeeth was a social person and had no enemies. “Sangeeth used to be involved in all social activities here. He was first in West Asia and he came to his native place six years ago and started his own business. In fact, Sangeeth was a helpful person as he allowed the forest department and panchayat officials to get sand from his premises for free. So the sand mafia took this opportunity and entered his premises knowing that Sangeeth was not present there,” said neighbour Srikumar.

Sangeeth’s relatives raised concerns about the future of the family as Sangeetha is only a housewife and the couple has two children, six-year-old Srihari and four-year-old Sankeerthana.

Nair blamed the Kerala government to which the police report. He wondered how NRIs that contributed so much to the wealth of the state could ensure their loved ones and properties were safe in their homeland. He lamented the irreparable loss of two families, the parents of Sangeeth Balan and of his wife Sangeetha. He said, “If they just stole something, we could earn as much later on. This loss is irreparable.”

Giving his consent to be quoted in this report, Nair said, “These are dirty creatures. I won’t leave them. I want them to be punished.”

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