When Naresh Khohal, a photo journalist with a Hindi daily in Haryana’s Jhajjar town, informed the local police about stone pelting in his neighbourhood on the night of May 7, he thought he was being a good citizen. When the police didn’t reach the spot, Khohal went to the Jhajjar City Police Station and returned with a police team.
Hours later, police arrested him for “creating nuisance” and booked for “spreading infection of dangerous disease”, violation of Covid-19 instructions and under Disaster Management Act, 2005. The case was registered on the complaint of Sandeep Kumar, a head constable at Jhajjar City Police Station.
Now, a government inquiry has found that the journalist indeed had informed the police about the stone pelting and the FIR against him was “not appropriate”.
The inquiry conducted by IAS officer Uttam Singh has pointed that the policeman, who is complainant in the case, was not even authorized to lodge a complaint under Disaster Management Act. The probe also suggests that a doctor of government hospital issued a medical certificate, which police used in its favour, even as the journalist was not even taken to the room of the doctor for medical examination.
“On the basis of the available evidences, it can’t be established that the FIR registered by Inspector Roshan Lal’s (thana) under these sections was appropriate,” concluded Uttam Singh, who is additional deputy commissioner of Jhajjar, in his report submitted to Jhajjar deputy commissioner Jitender Dahiya on May 26.
Sources said that the deputy commissioner has sent the report to the police administration and Jhajjar civil surgeon for further action. “We will take appropriate action after studying the report,” said Sandeep Khirwar, ADGP, Rohtak range while speaking to The Indian Express.
The deputy commissioner had ordered a probe after several journalists complained that Khohal was kept in the thana for entire night and was tortured there just “for informing the police about a dispute in his neighbourhood”.
According to Khohal, he had informed the SHO Roshan Lal twice about an incident of stone pelting in his neighbourhood on the night of May 7. “When the police did not reach at the spot, I went to the police station on my motorcycle and returned to the spot with them. Police took me too to the thana for questioning. I was taken to the hospital too for medical examination. A police official, head constable Sandeep Kumar, said that my medical examination has been conducted. However, I was not even produced before the doctor,” he told inquiry officer Uttam Singh, a 2015 batch IAS officer.
On its part, the police said that it had arrested Khohal along with a local resident, Vivek, for “creating nuisance” in a drunken stage. The police had alleged that they were violating the instructions issued by the deputy commissioner regarding Covid-19 and “were without masks”.
However, in his statement to the inquiry officer, Khohal said, “At 11.30 pm, I was tied with a heavy wooden item, which was kept in open space of the thana. I was neither allowed to drink water nor allowed to pass urine. The policemen present there abused me. I was released only after the police accepted my bail next morning”.
On the other hand, SHO Roshan Lal in his statement to the inquiry officer denied “the use of third degree upon the accused in the police custody” while terming his complaint as false.
“The medical examination of the accused was conducted at civil hospital. In his medical report, the doctor has mentioned about smell of liquor from his mouth adding the accused refused to give blood samples,” the SHO claimed in his statement.
However, to know the truth, the IAS officer examined the CCTV cameras of the hospital. “Dr. Narender Singh had issued medical certificate. In his statement, he said that Khohal’s medical examination was not conducted because he was not wearing mask. It is clear from the CCTV footage that Khohal did not enter the room of doctor,” mentioned the inquiry officer stating that the medical certificate was issued without following proper procedure
On the basis of call recordings, the inquiry officer established that the Khohal had indeed complained to police about the stone pelting. According to the report, the call recordings also suggest that “he was being threatened that he would be declared proclaimed offender”, if he did not turn up at the thana.
In this case, the police had lodged an FIR on the complaint of head constable Sandeep Kumar under sections 160 (committing affray), 188(disobedience of govt orders), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of the IPC and section 51 of the Disaster Management Act.
However, the IAS officer in his report pointed out that the complaint in this case was not lodged by an authorised person while pointing out section 60 of the Disaster Management Act, which mentions “No court shall take cognizance of an offence under this Act except on a complaint made by The National Authority….or any other authority or officer authorized in this behalf by that Authority or Government”.
In the absence of CCTV footage of the thana and other evidences, allegations of the journalists that he was beaten up there, could not be proved in the probe.