Delhi: N-E riots, 2020
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The police investigation
The courts’ view of the probe
The riots that erupted on February 23, 2020 were an apparent retaliation against anti-CAA protests, including a sit-in by Muslim women. The ensuing violence left over 50 people dead, a majority of them Muslims.
While additional sessions Judge Vinod Yadav rejected applications filed by the two accused seeking a discharge from the case, he called the Delhi police’s probe flawed.
Expressing pain at the lack of concern on the part of the investigating officers as the “accused languish in jails”, he urged Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana to “initiate remedial steps”.
This is not the first time a court has criticised how Delhi Police has built cases against those accused in the riots. The criticism is in line with independent probes carried out by NGOs that revealed political biases in arrests made.
Cops were “injured”, but…
Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav was hearing a case registered with the Karawal Nagar police station on February 27 last year. The FIR was based on a written complaint filed by a constable from the 65th Battalion of the Sashastra Seema Bal alleging that a riotous mob attacked members of the battalion with glass bottles, acid bombs and bricks on February 25 around 3.30pm.
The court agreed with the defence’s submission on the shoddy investigation where, despite clear charges of use of certain material in the attack, no attempts were made by the cops to collect samples of any “acidic/corrosive” substance and have the same analysed.
And that is not all, the judge said the investigating officer made no attempt to get an expert to look at the injuries and give his opinion, which could have strengthened the prosecution’s case.
Do the investigating officers really care?
The judge said that in a large number of cases pertaining to the north-east Delhi riots, the investigating officers (IOs) and the concerned station house officers (SHOs) have neither bothered to appear in court nor have they thought it necessary to brief the public prosecutors (the lawyers representing their side). “After the filing of charge sheet 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 judge said in his order rejecting accused Ashraf Ali and Parvez’s discharge applications.
“A large number of cases of riots have been pending consideration on charge before this court and in a majority of cases the IOs have not been appearing in court, either physically or through video-conferencing at the time of consideration on charge. I have also been given to understand that they have not been briefing the learned special public prosecutors for arguments of charge.”
The court said the IOs simply e-mail PDFs of the charge sheet to the public prosecutors on the morning of the date of hearing and “leave it upon him to argue the matter, without giving him an opportunity to go deep into the facts and the investigation conducted in the matter.”
Death and destruction during Delhi riots
Half-baked charge sheets
The court observed that it was high time that the Deputy Commissioner of Police concerned and other higher officers took notice of the court’s observations and took immediate remedial action as even the supervising officers had “miserably failed to supervise the investigation.”
“It is noticed that after filing the half-baked charge sheets in court, the police hardly bother about taking the investigation to a logical end. The accused persons, who have been roped-in in multiple cases, continue to languish in jails as a consequence thereof,” the order reads. Similar court observations in other cases
Various courts have made observations similar to Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav’s. A caveat here — the yardstick applied by a court in assessing a case after a full-fledged trial, while framing charges, and while hearing bail applications are different.
Several Delhi courts have granted bail to various accused in different cases pertaining to the north-east Delhi riots citing delay in registration of FIRs, lack of electronic evidence and questionable credibility of statements of public and police witnesses.
Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav himself granted bail to two men accused of rioting and damaging a school from the rooftop of another building. The judge referred to a Delhi high court order and observed that the witnesses hadn’t identified the accused and had named them much later. “The investigation in the matter is complete and a charge sheet filed, while the trial is likely to take longer. Applicants cannot be incarcerated in jail for infinity on account of the fact that other people have to be identified and arrested,” he had observed.
Another accused was granted bail in March this year after the court observed that neither was he named in the FIR nor did he face any specific allegations. “He has not been identified by any public witness. There is no independent CCTV footage/video clip on record,” said the court, granting bail to a man arrested in connection with a February 2020 incident where a bookstore was looted and set on fire.
Another accused, who was arrested 55 days after the incident of rioting, based on a police constable’s identification, was also granted bail. The police constable, the prosecution said, had “categorically seen and identified” the accused Rashid at the spot when a medical store was vandalised on February 25, 2020. The judge said the identification by the constable was “hardly of any consequence” as he didn’t report the matter immediately. “Being a cop, what stopped him from reporting the matter then and there at the police station or to bring the same to the knowledge of higher police officers? This casts serious doubt on the credibility of the said police witness,” the court had observed.