The Supreme Court on Monday said that it will constitute an independent committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to investigate the security lapse during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Punjab visit on January 5.
Also in a setback back to Union government and Punjab State Governemnt Indian Apex Court asked both Governments to put on hold the enquiries by the Committees constituted by them
A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli will pass a detailed order today detailing the composition of the Committee.
The bench indicated that it will include DGP Chandigarh, IG National Investigation Agency, Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and ADGP (security) of Punjab in the Committee.
The bench was hearing a PIL filed by an NGO “Lawyers Voice” seeking action against officials responsible for the security lapse.
During the hearing, the Court expressed displeasure at the Union Government issuing show-cause notices to the state officials of the Punjab Government over the security lapse, even as the matter was under the examination of the Court.
The bench asked the Solicitor General of India when the show-cause notices have been sent to the State Officers, with prima facie findings regarding their guilt over PM’s security lapse, what is the purpose of Court considering the matter.
Though the Solicitor General suggested that a Central Committee could examine the issue and submit a report to the Court,
The Punjab Advocate General expressed lack of faith in the Central Probe and demanded an independent probe under the monitoring of the Court.
Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the petitioner-NGO, submitted that the Committee be asked to explore the invocation of UAPA also with respect to the incident, as the Punjab Police FIR only mentions a minor offence under the Indian Penal Code.
Responding to this, the CJI said “let us not complicate the issue now”.
Advocate General of Punjab DS Patwalia submitted that the Union Government has issued show-cause notices to 7 State Officers, including the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police, for disciplinary action;
Also he said they were given only 24 hours to respond to the notices seeking disciplinary action.
Saying that “there is some politics behind it”, the Advocate General submitted that there won’t be any fair enquiry by the Union Government.
“I will not get a fair hearing from Central Government. Please appoint an independent committee, and give us a fair hearing…the records have been seized by the Registrar General. So where is the evidence? On what basis their(Centre) findings have come? I was given 24 hours till 5 PM on January 8. Show-cause notice presumes and premeditates everything against us. I don’t expect a fair hearing”, Advocate General continued.
The AG made it clear that it was a “serious issue” and the officers of the State should be punished if they are liable for the security lapse.
“But don’t condemn us unheard. If my officers are wrong, hang them. But only after a fair enquiry”, the AG submitted.
After this, the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked the Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta if the show-cause notices were issued after the order of the Court last Friday(January 7).
It may be recalled that the Court had then orally asked the Union and Punjab to put on hold the enquiry proceedings of the Committees constituted by both of them till today.
SG replied that the show-cause notices were issued before the order of the Court.
He then took the bench through the provisions of the Special Protection Group Act and the “Blue Book” for PM’s security, saying that these provisions are to be understood to analyze the issue from a proper perspective.
“The Convoy of PM had reached the place which was 100 m from the protest area..as per the blue book it would be incumbent upon the officers that the rules are strictly implemented and state government should direct such officers so that there is minimum inconvenience…
Crowds started gathering in the morning. There were no inputs from Director General of police which was his responsibility”, SG submitted.
He submitted that there was a complete failure of intelligence and violation of protocols.
“It has to be continuously communicated that there is a clear road and if there’s a blockade stop them 4 kms away. Here the warning car of the state was travelling along with the cavalcade. There was complete intelligence failure”, SG submitted.
When there are clear violations of the SPG Act and the blue-book, there is no room for detailed hearing and lengthy procedures, the SG added.
He also pointed out that the officers are not before the Court.
“The fact that the state is defending them is very very serious”, he submitted.
He highlighted that the PM’s travel was not unscheduled. “The PM was to travel by air on the 5th, but it was intimated to all state agencies that there are climate issues and PM will travel by route also. There was also a rehearsal”, the SG pointed out.
It was at this point that the bench put questions to the Solicitor General regarding the Union enquiry.
Justice Surya Kant asked the SG, “Your show cause notice is totally self-contradictory.
By constituting a committee you seek to enquire if there was a breach and then you hold state CS and DG guilty. Who held them guilty?”
“The state and the petitioner wants a fair hearing and you cannot be against a fair hearing. So why this administrative and fact-finding enquiry by you at all?”, Justice Kant asked further.
“Asking them to reply within 24 hours, after our order. ..it is not expected of you”, Justice Hima Kohli said.
“To say “it is not expected of you”, is a bit harsh under the circumstances”, the Solicitor General responded.
The SG said that the PM’s security is of paramount importance and the Centre has to look into the lapses.
The enquiry was against the officials who are responsible for the security protocols as per the bluebook, the SG added.
“Yes there is a breach and the state has too admitted it. But the other issues are questions of facts and they have to be seen by independent persons”, Justice Surya Kant observed..
“If you want to take disciplinary action against the state officers then what remains for this court to do?”, the CJI asked.
In response, the SG said that if the bench felt that the show-cause notices preempts the final outcome, the proceedings on it could be put on hold till the Central Committee examines the issue and submits a report to the Court.
However, the Advocate General of Punjab expressed lack of faith in the Central Committee.
“The Person heading committee is MHA’s head, MHA has already given a finding that we are guilty, what will it do?
This committee is a useless formality. I have no hope from this committee! Please constitute an independent committee”, the AG submitted.
After this exchange, the bench decided to constitute an independent committee.