CHARGED: Though the FIR against Atanasio and Jennifer Monserrate for the attack on the Panjim Police Station was registered in 2008, the case being handled by the CBI has yet to see a verdict. The latest hearing has been fixed for February 28, with suspense mounting on whether the verdict will come before counting day on March 10, 2022 to make any difference for the better or worse….
BY JOSHUA GEORGE
Despite the Supreme Court’s directives to fast-track cases against candidates with criminal records contesting parliamentary and assembly elections, even 20 years later the case against Atanasio Babush Monserrate, to do with the attack on the Panjim Police Station, is yet to be heard. Leave alone decided!
THE Supreme Court is agitated over political parties being given tickets to contest elections despite their criminal records. Ideally, the SC would like political parties to deny tickets to candidates with serious criminal records. During the current five-state assembly elections, the Supreme Court directed all political parties and candidates to widely disseminate information on the criminal records of candidates to whom they have given tickets. Going one step further, the Supreme Court asked all parties to give reasons why tickets were given to candidates with criminal records when more honest candidates could have been fielded?
It is in this context the Supreme Court has directed all State governments to fast track cases pending against candidates with, criminal records. But clearly state governments and political parties are not willing to keep criminals out of politics as demonstrated in the case in which Atanasio Babush Monserrate, along with his wife Jennifer Monserrate and then Panaji mayor Tony Rodrigues, attacked the Panjim Police Station in 2016.
The case has been pending for 14 years since the FIR was filed and continues to be adjourned for trivial reasons. The latest adjournment was due to the transfer of the public prosecutor, who was representing the CBI, without a replacement to pursue the case. The case adjourned to February 28, 2022. Will the final hearing of the case be completed before the declaration of the results of the assembly elections in Goa on March 10?
Given below is the chronology of events and the long delays given the fact that the petitioners Atanasio Monserrate, Jennifer Monserrate and Tony Rodrigues were charge-sheeted.
FEBRUARY 19, 2008
ON February 19, 2008 around 7.35pm an aggressive crowd of about a 1,000 people gathered in front of the Panaji Police Station. It was led by Babush Monserrate along with his wife Jennifer and the then mayor, Tony Rodrigues. They were demanding the suspension of a police inspector of Panaji Police Station. They were demanding the release of supporters of Babush who had been arrested by the Panaji police after a clash between two groups.
The police refused to oblige Babush’s mob and they in turn resorted to abuse and violence at the police station, causing damage to property by pelting stones. Several police officers including police women were assaulted with Babush leading them. That same day at around 10pm Police Sub-Inspector Tushar Lotlikar attached to the Panaji Police Station lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against Babush Monserrate and mob, against 25 known and 500 unknown persons under Sections 143, 147, 333, 435, 432,323, 324, 325, 427, 307 read with Sections 120B, 149 and 34 of IPC. Babush and Jennifer were arrested at Panaji Police Station.
On getting the news of their arrest Tony Rodrigues, Amit Monserrate, son of the Babush, along with 100 other people from the Taleigao constituency, stormed the Panaji Police Station and demanded the release of the arrested. They also assaulted police personnel with injurious weapons including steel rods and swords.
Two days later on February 21, Babush and Jennifer were released on bail. A report was then filed by the Monserrates addressed to Chief Secretary Ashok Kumar, Director-General of Police BS Brar and the Station House Officer of the Panaji Police Station. Responding to the FIR filed against him, Babush made allegations of bias and victimisation of his supporters by the police.
STATE CHALLENGES ORDER
On March 1 Jennifer Monserrate filed an application under Section 156 (3) Cr.P.C. against the police inspector, pointing out that the FIR had not been registered. The Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) then directed the officer-in-charge of Panaji Police Station to register the FIRs. In the meantime, the State challenged the order passed by the JMFC. Further on March 10 Babush Monserrate and Tony Rodrigues filed a petition before the Division Bench of the Court seeking relief, including the discharge of the case and squashing of the FIRs.
The Advocate General Carlos Ferreira who appeared for the State government stated that there was no question of granting any relief at that a stage as two FIRs had already been registered against the accused. One being in relation to damage to property and the other in relation to unlawful assembly and attack on the Police Station. The AG further stated that the investigation in both matters should be entrusted to the CBI. Pursuant to the statements made by the AG, the government of Goa transferred the investigation and all the complaints to the CBI on May 6, 2008.
Babush then filed for Special Leave Appeal before the Supreme Court of India, challenging the order passed by the Division Bench refusing interim relief. The court dismissed the petition and passed an order stating that since the High Court made it clear that the grievances of the petitioners would be looked into, it found no reason to interfere and the CBI investigation would continue.
The CBI took over the investigation on October 29, 2009. In respect to the crime a chargesheet was filed against Babush Monserrate and 36 others before the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate Panaji. The charge-sheet was filed under Sections 143,147,148, 149,153,324,325,326,332,333,427 and 435 of IPC and section 3 of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act 1984. In a further attempt to set aside criminal proceedings against Babush and 36 other people Babush’s legal team challenged the procedure under which the FIR was lodged by the Police Station. His legal team stated that the investigation was tainted, illegal and one-sided.
The defence team also challenged the FIR by the CBI on similar grounds. The petitioners (Babush & 36 others) approached the court and asked that the investigation be quashed and a new Special Investigating Team be constituted to investigate the crimes.
THE representatives of the CBI responded saying that the investigation had been carried out in accordance with the law. They further stated that the report filed by Jennifer Monserrate on February 22, 2008 making allegations against the police inspector was investigated by examining several witnesses and the investigation revealed the several offences by the accused Babush and Jennifer Monserrate. The CBI concluded that no case has been made out for constituting a Special Investigating Team.
The Monserrates’ heavyweight team representatives comprised of former Solicitor General Atmaram Nadkarni, Senior Counsel Shirish Gupta, Mahesh Jethmalani (son of Ram Jethmalani, Supreme Court lawyer and former chairman of the Indian Bar Council) who argued that the CBI began investigation without filing an FIR and the delay in filing of the FIR taints the investigation and renders it biased.
In response, Public Prosecutor Carlos Ferreira said that after the State government directed all files be handed over to the CBI on May 6, 2008 the investigation was carried out thoroughly with all complaints scrutinised. Public Prosecutor Ferreira further conceded that the police inspector of the Panaji Police Station ought to have registered the FIR pursuant to the directions given by the JMFC. He also submitted that non-registration of the FIR should not be grounds on which the case should be quashed, as the accused Babush Monserrate, Jennifer Monserrate, Tony Rodrigues and others who stormed the Panaji Police Station were still guilty of unlawful assembly and causing damage of public property.
Furthermore, the Special Public Prosecutor who represented the CBI, Joseph Vaz, submitted that no case had been made out by the petitioners for the constitution of a Special Investigating Team. Public Prosecutor for the CBI further submitted that the investigation by the CBI has been neither biased nor tainted, nor unfair, and the CBI took into consideration all aspects while filing the charge-sheet against the accused.
In its final judgement the court ruled that after considering the factual and legal position, it had come to an opinion that the petitioners Atanasio Monserrate, Jennifer Monserrate, Tony Rodrigues and Ubaldina Rodrigues had not made out any case for the quashing of criminal proceedings as well as the constitution of a Special Investigating Team. The court found no merit and ordered all parties to appear before the Magistrate at Panaji on June 20, 2012 at 10 am.
FOR the last seven years since the case has been pending in the High Court. Late last year on December 22, 2021 Justice Manish Pitale of the Bombay High Court at Goa directed that the trial should commence and be expedited as there was prima facie evidence against the accused. The trial commenced on January 2022 in Mapusa Court before Mapusa Additional Sessions Judge Sherin Paul. The matter remained adjourned till the new date of February 24.