Innocents are languishing in jails because of police’s ‘lackadaisical approach’

Abdul Bari Masoud analyses the observations made in recent weeks by the various courts of Delhi while dealing with the cases of Delhi communal violence 2020, in which the courts slammed Delhi Police for their ‘lackadaisical approach’ and ‘shoddy and biased’ investigation into the riots.

Justice is the most fundamental of constitutional principles and criminal justice is the foundation of law and order in a civilized society. Fair and impartial investigation of crimes is at the root of criminal justice. However, the way Delhi Police has conducted the ‘shoddy and biased’ investigation into the February 2020 North East Delhi targeted-communal violence has come under sharp criticism from several quarters. Even the numerous court orders in the riots cases have also highlighted this stark reality and pulled down the Delhi Police.

In recent weeks courts have passed no less than 20 orders related to the riot cases, damning the police for their ‘half-baked chargesheets’, ‘shoddy investigations’ and ‘communal biases’. Moreover, a trial court order imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the police and called the investigation ‘callous and farcical’.

Delhi Police arrested 1,829 people and filed 755 FIRs in connection with the riots as Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy told Parliament and added that out of the 755 FIRs filed, 62 were linked to heinous crimes and were investigated by the special investigation teams in the crime branch. The minister also asserted that the police investigated all the cases based on facts and evidence, using the latest scientific techniques, and without any regard to the affiliation or identity of the accused. But so far chargesheets have been filed in ‘only 35 out of 755 cases’.

In a series of judgments, trial courts as well as the High Court of Delhi have questioned the  police investigation into the riots cases, particularly where the ‘key witness’ in the charge-sheet is only the beat constable and no other eyewitnesses or electronic evidence is available.

On February 23, 2020, the targeted communal violence broke out in Delhi’s Jafrabad and spread across North East Delhi over the next four days. This came against the backdrop of the passing of the Centre’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the resultant widespread protests against it. At least 53 people, mostly Muslims, lost their lives and 581 were rendered injured in the violence that ensued. Shops and houses worth crores of rupees were burnt and destroyed.

One case, linked to the criminal conspiracy behind the violence, was being investigated by the Special Cell and 692 cases were being investigated by the North East district police.

REPEATED STRICTURES FROM THE COURTS

“It is painful to note that in a large number of cases of riots, the standard of investigation is very poor,” Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav made the observations while framing charges against one Ashraf Ali for allegedly attacking police officials with acid, glass bottles and bricks during the violence on February 25, 2020.

The police hardly bother about taking the investigation to a logical end after filing half-baked charge sheets, due to which the accused, who have been named in multiple cases, continue to languish in jails, observed ASJ Yadav.

“This case is a glaring example, wherein victims are police personnel itself, yet the IO did not bother to collect the sample of acid and to have its chemical analysis.”

In another case, while discharging former AAP councillor Tahir Hussain’s brother and two others on September 3, the  ASJ Yadav  pulled up Delhi Police, saying, “When history will look back at the worst communal riots since Partition” in Delhi, “the failure of the investigating agency” to conduct a “proper investigation… will surely torment the sentinels of democracy”.

In the discharge order, he further observed that the investigation tried to “merely pull wool over the court’s eyes” and this case is a “colossal wastage of the hard earned money of tax-payers, without there being real intent of investigating the matter”.

Of the 750 riot cases, 150 cases have been received by this court for trial. So far, charges have been framed in 35 cases, the court said.

The court said there are a “large number of accused persons who have been languishing in jail for the last about one and half years merely on account of the fact that the trial in their cases is not being initiated.”

“This Court cannot permit such cases to meander mindlessly in the corridors of the judicial system, sweeping away precious judicial time of this Court when the same is open and shut case. The casualty in the matter is the pain and agony suffered by complainant/victim, whose case has virtually remained unsolved; callous and indolent investigation; lack of supervision by the superior officers of the investigation and criminal wastage of the time and money of the taxpayer,” it said.

The court said, “Police seem to be still busy in filing supplementary chargesheets” and “precious judicial time of this Court is being wasted in giving dates in those cases” where there is “hardly any investigation carried out by the police”.

In yet another case a Sessions Court on September 10 reprimanded the Delhi Police for its investigation. “Cases of communal riots have to be considered with utmost sensitivity, but that does not mean that common sense should be given go-by; the mind has to be applied even at this stage with regard to the material available on record,” said the court of Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav in an order.

CONSTABLE’S STATEMENT ONLY AVAILABLE EVIDENCE

“Section 436 of IPC cannot be invoked merely on the basis of the statement dated 06.03.2020 of police witness Constable Ashok, who was posted as Beat Constable in the locality in question on the date of the incident. When the four complainants stated nothing in this regard in their written complaints, then the statement of said police witness has no significance to this effect,” noted the court.

In another observation, Chief metropolitan Magistrate Arun Kumar Garg censured the police for its “lackadaisical approach” in handling riots cases, warning it would pass adverse orders against them, including adjournment costs with directions to deduct it from their salaries, if they failed to ensure proper prosecution.  The court also directed the Delhi Police Commissioner to personally look into the matter.

The observations came after the court found that the Special Public Prosecutor, representing the police, failed to appear before the court despite repeated calls and the investigating officer came to the court late without reading the police file and was unable to answer the court’s queries.

In at least three cases, courts have pointed to irregularities in the manner in which FIRs were filed. On some occasions, the police filed multiple cases in the same police station for the same incident. In other cases, it clubbed multiple complaints in a single FIR.

In one instance, granting bail to a 65-year-old, the court said he appeared to be the victim rather than an accused. Courts have underlined that the probe shows vindictiveness and non-application of mind on the part of the police.

REACTIONS

 Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, former chairman Delhi Minorities Commission, says the recent orders and observations of various Delhi courts about Delhi riots 2020 cases only validate that police probe was biased, unprofessional and insincere from the very beginning because, working under some top-level instructions, it started from day one creating a false narrative that the victims themselves planned and executed the riots.

“Time and again, courts at various levels have questioned the police. We want to know if the police are trying to shield anyone through their shoddy probe,” asked Aam Admi Party MLA Atishi.

Way back in February 2020, a Delhi High Court bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Talwant Singh had asked the police why action had not been taken against leaders who made provocative speeches. On February 26, 2020 even as the violence raged, the bench  directed the police to take a “conscious decision” to register FIRs against BJP leaders Anurag Thakur,  Kapil Mishra,  MP Parvesh Verma  and others who had made hate speeches, saying the court won’t allow “another 1984 under our watch”. That day, Justice Muralidhar was transferred to the Punjab and Haryana High Court, following approval of a February 12 recommendation from the Supreme Court collegium.

A new narrative was forged to suit the brief given to the police. Real planners, instigators and executors of the riots like Kapil Mishra roam free; they have not been called even for questioning while innocents have been implicated in a fake grand conspiracy and sent to jail, Dr Khan said.

He highlighted how when he was DMC Chairperson they “made a committee, but the police did not cooperate at all with its proceedings. The report came nonetheless. But the police went to court, demanding that this report must not be placed in any court. Why are they afraid of this report if they have nothing to hide? What we need is a Judicial Commission.”

To ensure that they live long in jails, UAPA has been unjustly invoked in their cases. Hundreds of FIRs have been clubbed with irrelevant cases to ensure justice is not done. All this is getting exposed in courts and hence the snide remarks made by the courts in Delhi riots cases. Expect more to come, he added.

“Had it been one critical observation or even two, one could have argued that mistakes do happen. But courts at every level are pointing out gaping holes in the investigation, refusing to accept witnesses, questioning the lack of evidence to back those witnesses. One judge has said the failure of the investigating agency to conduct a proper investigation will torment the sentinels of democracy. What can be more serious than this? There are questions on arrests as well non-arrests,” Atishi said in a press conference, questioning the decision of Lt Governor Anil Baijal to allow a panel of lawyers chosen by the police to argue the cases.

The entire charge sheet of riot cases over 17000 pages and subsequent charge sheets are concocted and fabricated, says Dr S Q R Ilyas. “No concrete evidence, the material placed before the judiciary is not substantiated by any concrete evidence. The entire charge sheet looks as if it is a script of the “Family Man” serial. The witnesses produced by the police are fake,” said Dr Ilyas, national president of the Welfare Party of India.

On his son Umar Khalid’s case, Dr Ilyas said one sentence of a 20 minutes speech of Umar Khalid was produced by the police as evidence, that too not by themselves but taken from Republic TV and News 18. Unfortunately these two channels got it from Amit Malviya’s Twitter handle, who is BJP’s IT cell In-charge. The 20 minutes speech was given by Umar in the Welfare Party programme at Amravati (M.S.) and the entire speech revolves around Gandhi’s principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha.

Concurring these observations,  Supreme Court  advocate M R Shamshad avers, “In March, 2020, the police did chest thumping by registering a number of FIRs, though many complaints naming a particular set of persons, were kept pending.

“Now after 18 months, the police’s hard work is getting exposed. We see, many people have been kept in jail just for vague reasons without police collecting credible evidence. All because, our system lacks the guts to fix accountability against public officials who fail to do something or do something wrong,” observes Shamshad who headed the DMC panel team on riots.

PUBLIC MEETING CONDEMNS POLICE PROBE

To mark the one year of ‘unjust’ imprisonment of Umar Khalid, a Citizens Collective consisting of prominent citizens held a public meeting at Press Club of India, highlighting ‘communal biases in the vital pillar of the criminal justice machinery’. They demanded that the law and order machinery should stop targeting innocent Muslims, and fabricating evidence and concocting communal charge-sheets against them.

They  condemned the Delhi Police for filing openly communal, false charge-sheets against him and said  “doctored evidence and dubious witness statements” have been used to rob bright young people like Umar Khalid of their freedom.

Delhi Courts’ harsh strictures have unnerved  the  Delhi Police; as a result Police  Commissioner Rakesh Asthana formed a Special Investigation Cell on September 19, to “expedite” and “ensure proper scrutiny” of riot cases.

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