UNDERLINING THAT maximum effort has to be made in a “welfare state” to ensure people, especially children, are not physically harmed, the Supreme Court Monday asked the central government to consider using alternative means other than pellet guns for crowd-control and to deal with protesters in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Being a welfare state, it is a duty of the government to ensure safety of its people as well as security forces. The purpose is not to cause physical harm to its people but at the same time protect all,” said a bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, as it asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to come up with alternatives by April 10.
The bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay K Kaul, impressed upon the AG to explore “technology-based measures”, which can prevent physical harm to people.
“Your own expert committee report talks about various other measures. We have gone through the report and it suggests technology-based measures. For instance, you can use energy in the nature of microwave energy. Then there is something about some water, which is awfully smelling, which can be used to disburse the crowd…laser razor and other such measures,” the bench told the AG.
Rohatgi pointed out that the report before the court was not a final report but an interim report of last October, exploring other measures. “All this will have to be seen during field trials. We don’t know how these alternatives will work and whether they will be effective,” he said.
The court then appreciated the AG’s concerns about the sensitive situation in J&K where protesters have resorted to violent agitations, including hurling petrol and kerosene bombs at security forces and acting as human shields for militants.
“We appreciate that…there are lots of pressure. However, what can be adopted should not cause harm to individuals. A situation has arisen and we are aware of the consequences that it (pellets) has harmed children. We cannot accept a situation where security personnel are getting killed but we have to try that both sides are protected as much. These are not the issues for the judiciary (to decide) but we will be happy if there could be a solution agreeable to both sides,” said the court.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association, seeking directions to do away with pellet guns, and in the interim, put in place a standard operating procedure for its use wherein it becomes mandatory to seek prior permission of an executive magistrate before using it on protesters.
During the hearing, the bench also sought to know whether actions have been taken against the parents of the minors who have been participating in unlawful assemblies. “If adults are involved, it is a matter between them and the police but if children are being used as human shields, then you must act against the parents, too. Ultimately, parents are responsible for them,” said the bench.
But Rohatgi said it was practically not possible for parents to keep this kind of check on their children of 16-17 years in age, and that there could be an “upheaval” if police starts acting against the parents.
The counsel for the petitioner submitted that 50 people died and 300 were blinded, partially or completely, after being hit by pellets during the protests that followed the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in July 2016. The AG pointed out that there were 1,522 incidents of violence across the Kashmir valley during the same period with 252 attacks on CRPF contingents, injuring around 1,800 personnel.
“Apart from CRPF personnel, 3,777 policemen were injured during the same period. Fifty-eight people, including two policemen, lost their lives in the same period in which 1,431 FIRs were registered. It cannot be forgotten that we are dealing with a border state where terror is sponsored by our neighbouring adversary country. When thousands of people from different parts come on the street at the same time, with faces muffled, we cannot know who is hidden behind those masks and these human shields. A court or a judge here cannot understand and issue orders what to do in a situation like this. These are not judicially manageable issues. After all, we are also not happy about injuring our own people,” said Rohatgi.
The bench accepted Rohatgi’s submissions while emphasising that it was trying to protect both parties equally since it involved “questions of life and death”.