Sunday, March 16, 2008

Muringoor Divine Retreat centre controversy

Muringoor issue: Divine centre welcomes SC verdict
Wednesday March 12 2008 11:11 IST

Express News Service

CHALAKKUDY: The Supreme Court verdict making null and void the Kerala High Court single judge’s order for a special investigation into the functioning of the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor, near here, was welcomed by the authorities of the Centre.

Talking to newsmen here on Tuesday, director of the Centre Fr George Panackal said that the verdict favourable to the Centre was due to the sincere prayers of all those who appreciate the services rendered by the Centre. He said that truth could not be concealed for ever.

“Do not treat anonymous letters as PIL”

J. Venkatesan

Supreme Court allows appeal

“High Courts cannot be converted into Station Houses”

Such letters must be placed before the Chief Justice

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that High Court judges cannot treat anonymous letters and petitions listing allegations against individuals or institutions as public interest litigation and order suo motu investigation.

A Bench of Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice B. Sudershan Reddy said, “Setting criminal law in motion is fraught with serious consequences, which cannot lightly be undertaken by the High Court even in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution. The High Court cannot direct investigation by constituting a special investigation team on the strength of anonymous petitions. The High Courts cannot be converted into Station Houses.”

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Reddy said, “No judicial order can ever be passed by any court without providing a reasonable opportunity of being heard to the person likely to be affected by such order and particularly when such order results in drastic consequences of affecting one’s own reputation.”

The Bench said, “The individual who moves the court for judicial redress in cases of PIL must be acting bona fide with a view to vindicating the cause of justice and not for any personal gain or private profit or of the political motivation or other oblique consideration. The [High] Court should not allow itself to be activised at the instance of such person and must reject his application at the threshold, whether it be in the form of a letter addressed to the court or even in the form of a regular petition filed in court.”

In the instant case, Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor in Thrissur district, Kerala, was aggrieved over the suo motu probe ordered by a single judge of the Kerala High Court in respect of certain allegations contained in an anonymous letter addressed to him. The present appeal by the Centre is directed against that judgment.

Allowing the appeal, the Bench said: “Institution’s own reputation is a priceless treasure. History teaches us that the independence of the judiciary is jeopardised when courts become embroiled in the passions of the day and assume primary responsibility to resolve the issues which are otherwise not entrusted to it by adopting procedures which are otherwise not known.”

The Bench said “there is heavy duty cast upon the constitutional courts to protect themselves from the onslaught unleashed by unscrupulous litigants masquerading as public interest litigants. The individual judges ought not to entertain communications and letters personally addressed to them and initiate action on the judicial side. The letters are required to be placed before the Chief Justice for his consideration. Each judge cannot decide for himself as to what communication should be entertained for setting the law in motion be it in PIL, or in any jurisdiction.”

In this case, the single judge of the High Court ought not to have entertained the anonymous petition, contents of which remain unverified and made it the basis for setting the law in motion against the appellant as he was not entrusted with the judicial duty of disposing of PIL matters.

Probe results will not be leaked out, government tells HC
Saturday November 18 2006 12:21 IST

KOCHI: The Director-General of Prosecutions (DGP) on Friday undertook before the Kerala High Court that steps would be taken to ensure that the results of the investigation by the special team investigating the allegations against Divine Retreat Centre Muringoor, Thrissur, would not be leaked out to the media.

This is in view of the allegations made in a writ petition by Fr George Panackal, Director of the Centre, that the team headed by IG Winson M. Paul had attempted to conduct a fishy search and inquiry to collect materials to frame false charges and make false propaganda through the media against the Retreat Centre.

Fr Panackal had sought to declare that the raid, search and seizure, conducted by the special investigation team on September 30 and October 1 was illegal, void and unconstitutional. He also sought for a compensation of Rs 1 crore for the legal injury and damage caused to the institution due to the illegal actions of the special investigation team.

The DGP contended that the prayer for compensation become infructuous in view of the subsequent finding by the High Court that it was not a raid but an inspection as part of the investigation ordered by the court on March 10.

Unholy liaisons at Divine
Tuesday May 1 2007 12:36 IST

KOCHI: It seems divinity is beating a hasty retreat at the Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor.

For, tumbling out of its cupboards are allegations of sexual harassment, missing persons, mysterious deaths, financial irregularities and illegally running a hospital!

The Special Investigation team headed by Vinson M Paul, Inspector-General of Police, after preliminary inquiry into the allegations against the centre, on Monday registered a criminal case at Koratty police station against 10 persons, including Fr George Panackal, director of the centre, and also filed an FIR before the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Chalakkudy.

While Fr George Panackal is implicated as the first accused, the other accused are procurator Fr Mathew Thadathil, homoeo doctor Thankamma, Sr Teresa and six employees.

The case is registered under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 342 (wrongful confinement) 324 voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 328 (causing hurt by poison etc with intent to commit an offence, 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code.

The other offences alleged include the conducting of a psychiatric institution without licence, administration of psychiatric drugs on several persons (15 persons are still at the centre).

The FIR also said the institution collected money by conducting religious functions and mentally hurt those who are opposed to the functioning of the institution.

During 1996-2006, as many as 974 premature deaths occurred at the centre, and bodies were cremated without providing information to the police.

The documents were allegedly forged to make it appear that the deaths were natural.

Several persons are locked in cells. Persons showing violent signs are injected with some unknown drugs.

Treatment is imparted by untrained persons. There are no medical practitioners at the centre.

The investigation had been ordered by the High Court on the basis of the allegations contained in an anonymous letter.

It was alleged that Fr Mathew Thadathil had made an inmate pregnant and she delivered a child. Celin Lopez of Alappuzha allegedly went missing from the centre.

IAS and IPS officials were allegedly extending illegal assistance to the centre which allegedly was receiving foreign funds.

Retreat Centre: Probe team told to submit report in 2 weeks
Tuesday October 17 2006 15:05 IST

KOCHI: In view of the submission made by the Director-General of Prosecutions (DGP) that ‘‘shocking’’ facts had been unearthed by the police and medical team that inspected Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor, and that they could not be disclosed in open court, Justice K R Udayabhanu of the Kerala High Court on Monday directed the investigation team to submit a confidential report within two weeks.

Retreat centre to file petition

Staff Reporter

Seeking quashing of FIR

  • Allegations baseless, says Fr. Panackal
  • Says the probe by SIT was not transparent

    Chalakudy (Thrissur): The Divine Retreat Centre at Muringur here plans to file a writ petition in the Kerala High Court seeking quashing of a First Information Report (FIR) on allegations of irregularities in the functioning of the institution.

    This was disclosed by George Panackal, director of the centre, at a press conference on Friday.

    Court orders probe

    On March 10, 2006, the Kerala High Court directed the Government to constitute a special investigation team (SIT), headed by Inspector General of Police Vinson M. Paul, to investigate allegations of sexual exploitation of women, violation of foreign exchange regulations and unnatural deaths at the centre.

    Justice K. Padmanabhan Nair initiated suo motu proceedings on the basis of a letter and two CDs received by the court. On September 30, 2006, the SIT inspected the retreat centre and this triggered protests by the church authorities.

    On January 21, Communist Party of India (Marxist) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan visited Muringur and expressed displeasure over the manner in which the retreat centre was inspected.

    On January 25, the High Court dismissed a writ petition filed by Fr. Panackal challenging the police action and seeking Rs.1 crore as compensation. The retreat centre filed a special leave petition in the Supreme Court in the first week of March.

    On the basis of the findings of the SIT investigation, the police filed an FIR on April 28 in the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court, Chalakudy, against 10 persons, including Fr. Panackal and Fr. Mathew Thadathil, Procurator, under sections 120(B), 342, 324, 328, 420, 201, 202 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 82 of the Mental Health Act 1982.

    The FIR said that 974 people died at the retreat centre between 1991 and 2006 and the bodies were disposed of without investigation.

    Fr. Panackal said the allegations were baseless and motivated. "Investigation by the SIT has not been truthful, transparent and objective. Deaths occur at the centre because the old, terminally ill and those rejected by society seek refuge there. All the deaths have been registered with the Velur panchayat and funerals were held at public crematoriums. An investigation ordered by the Kerala Human Rights Commission and conducted by Chief Investigating Officer Jacob Punnoose in 2002 had stated that allegations of unnatural deaths were baseless. There is no misuse of drugs at the retreat centre," Fr. Panackal said.

    He countered the statement in the FIR that Neena Govindan and Armando Francisco Antao "died consequent to administration of psychiatric drugs".

    "Post-mortem examination revealed that Neena died of heart attack. We have a statement from Antao's wife that he died of complications from his addiction to drugs," Fr. Panackal said.

    On the allegation against Fr. Mathew Thadathil, Fr. Panackal said that DNA fingerprinting tests conducted at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology had proved Fr. Thadathil was not the biological father of Mini Varghese's son, Ajay.

    Fr. Panackal said the witnesses mentioned in the FIR, Joyce Sebastian and Joicee, were associated with the Mariapalana Society, with whom the Divine Retreat Centre had a dispute over land holdings and property.

    "Joyce is trying to destroy the retreat centre in cahoots with certain communal organisations. Joicee is an accused in the Thaliparamba sex scandal case," Fr. Panackal said.

    © Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

  • SIT to probe allegations against Muringoor Divine Centre

    Staff Reporter

    High courtround-up

    Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Friday directed the Government to constitute a special investigation team (SIT) headed by Vinson M. Paul, Inspector General of Police who is now working as Director, Kerala Police Housing Construction Corporation, to probe into various allegations, including sexual exploitation of women against the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor in Thrissur district.

    Justice K. Padmanabhan Nair also ordered that the SIT should inquire into the allegation of foreign exchange violations by the centre and unnatural death that took place in and around the centre during the past two years. He ordered that the team be constituted within two weeks.

    The direction came on an anonymous letter complaining about criminal and anti-social activities taking place at the centre. After initiating suo motu proceedings on the basis of the letter, the court had received a complaint from a woman detained at the District Jail, Kozhikode, saying that a priest at the Divine Centre raped her. She was detained in the jail in connection with a theft in the centre. According to her, she had filed a complaint before the District and Sessions Judge, Kozhikode, regarding the rape. She said that the police were not investigating the case. She alleged that in the past two years, a number of dead bodies were found on the National Highway and the railway track near the centre. According to her, these deaths were not deaths due to accidents.

    She, in her complaint, said that the bodies were buried in the public ground. The keeper of the burial ground had once objected to bringing dead bodies having injuries. He was found dead in mysterious circumstances within two months. Women coming to the centre were being sexually exploited by the priest at the centre, she alleged.

    The court said that the investigation into the complaint of the woman was in cold storage. The attempt of the investigation officers was to exonerate the accused and make the complainant as accused.

    The court ordered appointment of a senior officer in view of the allegations that senior IAS and IPS officers were associating with the functioning of the centre. The court also made it clear that it was open to the SIT to resort to scientific methods such as polygraph test, brain mapping and DNA finger printing. The preliminary report should be filed within one month.

    Closure of retreat centre sought

    THRISSUR: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad on Friday demanded the closure of the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringur. In a release, the Parishad alleged that the retreat centre was involved in conversion.

    Youth found dead in water tank at retreat centre

    Staff Reporter

    THRISSUR: The body of Kannan (27) of Karumam near Thiruvallam in Thiruvananthapuram district was found in a tank containing boiling water at the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor in the district on Thursday night.

    The police said even though the man was rushed to the hospital he was declared dead on admission. The tank was being used to provide hot water to the inmates for taking bath. The man had joined the retreat centre on May 21.

    Probe sought into youth's death

    By Our Staff Reporter

    KOCHI, APRIL 3. The widow of a youth who was found dead at the Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor has filed a complaint to the Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, seeking inquiry into her husband's death.

    Addressing a press conference here on Saturday, Annie Babu, widow of late Babu, son of Chandy of Thoombalan House, of Manjappra village, complained that her husband had gone to the centre at Muringoor to participate in a six-day retreat on March 14. But, the family was informed of his death on March 17 by the vehicle-in-charge of the retreat centre.

    The Manjappra panchayat member, T.P. Venu, who was also present at the press conference, said that the post-mortem report had recorded head injuries as the reason for death while the doctor at the retreat centre had cited cardiac failure.

    Complaints have also been forwarded to the Leader of the Opposition, V.S. Achuthanandan, P.J. Joy, MLA, the chairman of the State Human Rights Commission, the Thrissur District Collector and other officials concerned.

    `No impropriety in Muringoor probe'

    Kochi: Observing that religious institutions are not above law, the Kerala High Court on Thursday said there was no impropriety or illegality in the police investigation into the affairs of the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor in Thrissur district.

    The court dismissed the writ petition filed by Fr. John Panakkal, the centre's director, challenging the police action and to declare the raid as illegal and seeking Rs.1 crore compensation. Justice R. Basant said the court was unable to find any specific act of impropriety or illegality or any act without authority committed by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) headed by Inspector General Vinson M. Paul. The action of the SIT on September 30 and October 1 last when searches were conducted at the centre did not appear to be beyond their jurisdictional competence. "Nothing has been brought to my notice which would persuade court to grant relief in favour of the petitioner," the judge held. Declining to grant the plea, the court, however, said if there was any illegal action from the police, aggrieved party could take recourse to law.

    Petition against raid

    George Panackal, Director of Muringoor Divine Retreat Centre, filed a writ petition against the police raid on the centre on September 30 and October 1.

    The petitioner sought Rs. 1 crore as compensation, as it was conducted without authorisation from any court. No notice was given before the operation.

    Plea to support police action at Muringoor

    Staff Reporter

    KOCHI: Kerala Yukthivadi Sanghom State president U. Kalanathan has urged the State Government to fully support the police inquiry into the issues related to the Divine Retreat Centre, Muringoor.

    Political leaders were attempting to divert the attention from the police inquiry by portraying the police investigation as a raid.

    This was also an attempt to communalise the issue, he said.

    `Government should apologise to retreat centre'

    Staff Reporter

    Thrissur: Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala has said that the Left Democratic Front Government (LDF) should apologise to the authorities of the Divine Retreat Centre at Muringoor for having "raided" it.

    The police and Health Department officials had inspected the centre, billed as one of Asia's biggest Christian retreat centres, on September 30 following a High Court order to submit a report on allegations of criminal activities there.

    The KPCC president told mediapersons after visiting the centre on Monday that the LDF Government was harassing a particular community.

    Harassment alleged

    "Tens of thousands of people visit the retreat centre every year, seeking peace and solace. Instead of respecting and supporting the centre, the Government is harassing its inmates, including AIDS patients. Assuming moral responsibility, Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan should visit the retreat centre," said Mr. Chennithala.

    The Kerala Catholic Youth Movement to the Thrissur Collectorate on Saturday in protest against an alleged raid by the police on Divine Retreat Centre at Muringur on September 30.

    No harassment

    The police have informed Justice K.R. Udayabhanu that they were not harassing the director of the Muringoor Divine Retreat Centre. The police told the court that they had prima facie found certain things, which could not be disclosed. The centre was trying to scuttle the truthful investigation. The investigation was launched following a High Court directive. The raid was conducted by a team consisting of doctors and police. The police filed the statement in response to a writ petition filed by the director against the raid.

    Permission delayed for police to fly with manacled accused

    A Correspondent

    NEDUMBASSERY: The passage of a Mumbai police team returning with a theft accused from the international airport was delayed by a few hours on Monday for not fulfilling the guidelines of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.

    The four-member police team, led by a sub-inspector, had come to Kerala to take into custody Rupesh D'Mello, accused in theft cases in Mumbai who had been hiding at the Divine Retreat Centre in Chalakudy.

    The team was to leave by a Jet Airways flight, 9W 402, scheduled for 1 p.m. However, the security agencies denied it passage on the ground that it had not obtained the mandatory permission from the bureau while carrying an accused in handcuffs on board an aircraft.

    Central Industrial Security Force sources said bureau authorities in Chennai were contacted, following which the permission was granted.

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