Courts in Delhi, including the Delhi High Court, have made stinging remarks about the quality of the Delhi Police’s probe into the tragic riots of last year, which bring into serious question not just the professionalism, but the willingness of the Delhi police to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes, writes KUDRAT MANN.
More than a year and half later, the perpetrators of the violence, bloodshed and arson of the riots that engulfed Delhi in February 2020 that claimed the lives of at least 53 persons and injured several more, are yet to be brought to justice.
The Delhi police has been subject to stinging criticism from various courts in Delhi over this period of time over its ongoing investigation into the riots. Some of the observations by the judiciary on the Delhi Police’s conduct are presented below. They raise serious questions about the quality and professionalism of the Delhi police’s probe into the riots, and its willingness and ability to deliver justice to the victims.
“Casual, callous” and a fine
Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav of Karkardooma District Court, is one of the Delhi High Court’s appointees to consider matters involving the riots. He has become the most vocal critic of Delhi Police’s inefficiency with respect to the riots.
Considering a revision petition on July 13 this year by the Delhi Police against the order of a lower court directing the Delhi Police to register a separate FIR on the complaint of a victim of the riots, he imposed a fine of Rs. 25,000 on the Delhi Police for their “casual and callous” approach, and for “miserably failing in their statutory duties”.
The Delhi Police, however, has challenged this order in Delhi High Court, whose next hearing is scheduled for September 13.
“Conscious Decision” and a Transfer
In the immediate aftermath of the riots, a division bench of the Delhi High Court led by Justice S. Muralidhar had expressed its ‘anguish’ at the failure by the Delhi Police to register FIRs against Bharatiya Janta Party leaders for their alleged inflammatory speeches. The High Court upheld the principle laid down by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Lalita Kumari v. Government of Uttar Pradesh (2014) 2 SCC 1 regarding the registration of FIRs, and asked police authorities to follow the mandate of law while considering the consequences of their actions.
Almost immediately, Justice S. Muralidhar was controversially transferred via a midnight notification by the Government to another High Court. A fresh bench was constituted to hear the matter; eventually, no FIRs were filed against the BJP leaders.
“Unwarranted” and a Stop against Media Trials
The Delhi High Court while considering a petition filed by social activist and student Devangana Kalita for quashing of the press notes filed against her by the Delhi Police alleging her to be a co-conspirator in the riots, observed that the affidavit filed by the police is “unwarranted”.
The single Judge bench of Justice Vibhu Bakhru restrained the police from circulating information about the allegations against Kalita till a trial commenced in the case against her. “A media campaign to pronounce a person guilty would certainly destroy the presumption of innocence”, he added.
Another common feature of the misconduct and maladministration by the Delhi Police during the riots, as highlighted by several courts, is that the police officers themselves acted as eye-witnesses in various cases.
In the matter of Firoz Khan v. State, while granting bail to the accused, the single Judge bench of Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani of the Delhi High Court noted that detaining undertrials just to send a “message to society” is not the remit of the courts. The court refused to accept the statements of the police constable who claimed to be a witness of the event. It highlighted that while is not the norm to delve into the merits of the case at the stage of granting bail, it is pertinent to consider the dubious evidence in the present case that in an assembly of around 250-300, the police have picked up only two, out of which one was the applicant.
In another case titled Irshad Ahmed v. State NCT of Delhi, the Delhi High Court, through the single Judge bench of Justice S.K. Kait, made a stark observation that the eye-witnesses in the chargesheet “seem to be planted” as they were the police constables themselves, and they waited for three days to lodge the FIR.
Suffering Victim to Chargesheeted Accused
Another curious incidence of inefficiency by the Delhi Police was depicted by the case of Mithan Singh, a 65-year-old man who was himself a victim of the riots owing to which he lodged a complaint. But the turn of events that followed made him an accused in the chargesheet filed by the police.
Justice Kait of the Delhi High Court, while granting him bail, highlighted this peculiar instance in his case and held that there was no material in the chargesheet against him. It noted that “there is no video clip or photograph on record against the petitioner whereby the petitioner was charge-sheeted in the present crime.”
“Non-Application of Mind” and “Vindictiveness”
The Delhi Police again came under line of fire with yet another critical judgment by ASJ Vinod Yadav. While granting bail to a riots accused, ASJ Yadav lambasted the police for “chargesheeting the applicant on the basis of insignificant material”.
“It is a total non-application of mind by the police which goes on to the extent of vindictiveness,” he added.
Dubious Investigation and a “Lot to be desired”
Back in November 2020, another ASJ of Karkardooma Court, Amitabh Rawat, while considering a bail application, made scathing observations regarding the investigations done by Delhi Police. He remarked that the “investigation leaves a lot to be desired”.
In another case, the Sessions Court expressed its surprise as to how can the police “identify and chargesheet the three aforesaid applicants only” “from among the riotous mob consisting of several hundred persons”.
The Court of ASJ Vinod Yadav condemned the “lackadaisical” attitude of the Delhi Police on July 20, 2021. The Court highlighted the “negligence” on the part of the investigating agency for not being aware that a separate FIR was already filed with respect to the matter of Madina Masjid vandalism.
“This Court is quite pained to see the lackadaisical attitude adopted by the investigating agency in the matter”, ASJ Yadav said.
More recently, the Court of ASJ Vinod Yadav, on August 28, 2021 pulled up the Delhi Police for filing “half-baked chargesheets” and non-appearance of investigating officers before Court.
ASJ Yadav remarked that, “It is … painful to note that in a large number of cases of riots, the standard of investigation is very poor. After filing of chargesheet in the Court, neither the IO nor the SHO nor the aforesaid supervising officers bother to see as to what other material is required to be collected from the appropriate authority in the matters and what steps are required to be taken to take the investigation to a logical end.”
The Court further expressed its dismay at the accused persons who continue to languish in jail due to such half-baked charges against them. The Court called for an immediate action from the DCP of North-East Delhi.
“Ludicrous and Preposterous”
Another judge of the Karkardooma Court lambasted the Delhi Police on August 25, 2021, for its ignorance in the very case it was investigating itself. ASJ Amitabh Rawat, while considering a revision petition filed by the police against the magistrate court’s orders, expressed his surprise that the police did not know from March 2020 to November 2020 (that is, a period of eight months), that the complaint was already clubbed with another FIR and was being investigated.
The Court, while calling the police’s stand “ludicrous and preposterous” noted that, “This leads to a conclusion that though the case is being investigated by police, the police did not itself know that they were investigating the case and when told came to realise that they were investigating the matter, the details of which they do not know”.
Several reports have been made covering the Delhi riots by multiple civil society organizations. One such report, by the Lawyers Initiative, is titled “Delhi Riots of February 2020: Causes, Fallout & Aftermath”.
Probably one of the most notable features of this report is the prologue by Justice B.N. Srikrishna, former judge of the Supreme Court of India who also headed the Enquiry Commission into Bombay riots of 1992. He wrote:
“With the heart rending experience gathered during the Commission of Inquiry that went into the riots and violent incidents in Mumbai during December 1992-January 1993, and the sense of apathy towards the victims of such riots that was clearly discernible there, I could not but get a feeling of deja vu while reading this report. It is time that the State machinery and Constitutional functionaries display greater seriousness in investigation of the causes of such riots and take appropriate steps to prevent their recurrence.“
Even two decades after the Bombay riots, the State apparatus to manage such situations has remained more or less inefficient. With many pending cases regarding the riots in several courts of Delhi awaiting hearing, and the judiciary pulling up the police on multiple occasions on so many fronts, the buck must stop with the Union Home Ministry, under whose jurisdiction the Delhi police operates.
(Kudrat Mann, is a third year student of B.A. LL.B (Hons.) at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Rai and an intern at The Leaflet. The views expressed are personal.)