When the hastily formed special investigation cell arrived at Muzaffarnagar, its members hoped it would be a three-month stint. But as FIRs on communal violence started piling up, they soon realised an early return was impossible. They had 567 cases to investigate, with 6,400 individuals named. Today, investigation is still pending in a 140 of those cases.
“We have almost completed our investigations. The cases in which investigation is pending too are almost complete and only paperwork remains,” said additional SP, SIC Manoj Jha, who is leading the team.
The SIC, with five gazetted officers and 53 inspectors including a woman, works from two adjacent rooms in a corner of the Police Lines. Four tables, two computers, countless files and an asbestos roof that provides little protection make up its entire infrastructure.
The UP police have sought to preempt any bias in the probe. “Of the team here, most officers are from eastern UP and have never been posted in western UP,” said a senior officer. At the same time, officers admitted, the duration of their stay has demoralised most of the members. “Of the 53 inspectors, 33 are from eastern UP. Meeting their families isn’t easy and here we live without proper facilities,” said an officer.
The probe too has been arduous. Apart from photographs of crime scenes, the SIC has videographed the statements by both riot accused and survivors to eliminate the possibility of duplicitous accounts while also counteracting witness intimidation after the riots. Jha said that in some cases, the number of people accused was too many to be possible. In the Kutba-Kutbi murder case in Shahpur police station, for instance, 100 people had allegedly committed the murder of eight people. The SIC checked the call records of those allegedly present at the scene and found evidence against four, whom it arrested.
Political organisations, however, have frequently alleged the SIC is biased, officers said. Last month, the Bharatiya Kisan Union, led by local leaders, turned up outside the SIC office demanding that the SIC not investigate a particular accused in the Jauli ambush murders. “We have often had individuals coming to us and claiming their innocence, but this was the first time an organisation actually staged a dharna here,” added Jha.
The SIC has been criticised for its slow investigation. Jha explained this had nothing to do with political pressure, but more with the complexity of the cases and the time taken by the court for procedural tasks. “Issuing a non-bailable warrant takes a month. Declaration of an accused as absconding also takes time,” he said.
While the investigation is nearing its end, proceedings in court have only begun. A total 1,540 accused are being tried in the Muzaffarnagar court. A team of 10 prosecutors has been assigned to look at the cases.
Bureaucratic hurdles seem to have come in the way. Senior advocate Nasir Ali, who worked with the police for three months after the riots, was later taken off these cases and says he still doesn’t know why, despite filing a number of requests and RTI applications. “I was pushing for convictions and opposing bail. Soon I was taken off,” he said.
Lawyers admitted that the pace at which the matters were being dealt with didn’t inspire much hope. “Most of the cases will end in a compromise between the parties; the process has already started. Witnesses are turning hostile and unreliable. Everybody wants to forget the riots,” said Firoz Ali, a public prosecutor.