Two days after the Punjab and Haryana High Court rapped Central Bureau of Investigation for not probing the cases on sacrilege incidents in a time-bound manner, the court on Thursday also hit out at the previous state government for sitting over the report of Justice Zora Singh Commission for months, as it grilled the current regime regarding Justice Ranjit Singh (Retd) Commission’s terms of reference.
“The decision should have been taken at earliest…The laxity also applies to them. To allow such issue to simmer and then make it a point of controversy, it could have been avoided,” a single bench of the High Court observed on the inaction over Justice Zora’s report during the hearing of petitions against Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report, which recommended action against the police officers who had opened fire on anti-sacrilege protestors in Behbal Kalan in 2015.
Senior Advocate P Chidambaram on Thursday concluded the arguments on behalf of the government. The court observation on the government inaction came following Chidambaram’s submission that the previous government did not act upon the report of Justice Zora Singh Commission for nine months. However, the court also stressed on the point that the courts do not take into account the change in dispensation as it made the observation regarding the lack of timely decision over Justice Zora Singh Commission report.
Chidambaram said the new government did not accept the report submitted by Justice Zora Singh Commission and decided to constitute a new panel. He also admitted that the names of police officers were added to the FIR on the recommendation of the Justice Ranjit commission report.
The bench on the terms of reference of the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission expressed its doubt regarding the mandate given to the inquiry panel with regard to the enquiry into the role of police officers. “Nobody knows what would have happened in (CrPC) 173 (investigation report). This court does not know if the Commission has so much information to come to (such) conclusion,” the court observed.
Chidambaram said no one even at this stage knows what would be in the investigation report, which he said may reveal nothing has happened, and the commission was merely on a “fact-gathering” mission. However, he also stressed that the state could not have ignored the recommendations of the commissions.
The court also questioned the need of a commission when the investigating agency was already entrusted with the task to probe the same matter. Chidambaram said that the “ferment” among the people was that the investigation was not being properly conducted and that there was a need to look into the causes behind police firing. He also mentioned that the police carried assault rifles for crowd control.
While the court observed that the assault rifles are a common feature in Punjab because of militancy and it being a border state, Chidambaram said the “elementary lesson” is that you don’t take them for crowd control. He also said that had the investigation agency’s probe been on right track, there would have been no need of the commission.
The court also observed that even before the stage of completion of inquiry the commission has come to a conclusion. Chidambaram said they are still at the stage of investigation and the government cannot shut its eyes if it gets any information from any source, including the commission.
The court also observed that the commission could have looked into the larger picture with respect to “polarisation” and why such things were happening instead of carrying out a parallel investigation. Chidambaram submitted that there was no larger public interest than looking into the sacrilege incidents and why people were fired on. Advocate General Atul Nanda will now present the state’s side on Friday on petitions seeking transfer of all FIRs related to sacrilege incidents and police firing to the CBI. The cases are now at the final stage of hearing.