A day after Supreme Court declined to entertain a CBI petition against a Punjab and Haryana High Court decision in the matter of 2015 sacrilege cases, Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda Friday told the state government that Punjab Police is empowered to investigate the cases and recommended seeking return of case records from the central agency, adding that contempt proceedings must be initiated in case they do not return the files.
The legal advisory penned by Nanda and sent to the Home Department said the police SIT should “commence/continue” investigation at their end even in absence of the files currently with the Central Bureau of Investigation and said the absence of those files should also not be an impediment in the way of the SIT.
“In any event, such return of files would be a mere formality as the High Court itself in the judgment has noticed that there was practically no investigation which had been carried by the CBI,” he said, quoting the ruling wherein the HC said “During the course of hearing, this court called for the case diary of the CBI and perused the same. It was evident that investigation in the cases had hardly made any headway”.
Nanda, in the advisory, said the government ought to immediately write to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the CBI on basis of the HC verdict as well as the Supreme Court and demand a return of the files. “Any failure to return the files should be treated as contempt of court and proceedings must (be) initiated accordingly,” reads the advisory.
The CBI, before the Supreme Court, had challenged the 2019 HC decision to uphold the Punjab government action to withdraw its consent for probe in the cases by the central agency and handover the same to the SIT. The appeal had been filed in the backdrop of developments taking place in a matter of closure report filed by the CBI in July 2019 in sacrilege cases. CBI in a u-turn later had informed the trial court that its closure report may be kept in abeyance as it has restarted the investigation.
Punjab, before trial court last month, prayed that CBI may be retrained from carrying out any further investigation in view of the HC verdict. However, the trial court in January 8 order, while declining the request and adjourning the matter for hearing on February 26, noted that the matter regarding CBI’s jurisdiction in the cases is pending before the apex court and it cannot pass any order to restrain the agency at this stage.
Regarding the observation made by Supreme Court in Friday’s order, Nanda clarified that the mention of “question of law” being kept open only means that the same issue of law can be adjudicated in any other case. The legal question is whether a state government has the power to annul its previously-granted consent for CBI probe in a matter. CBI’s case before Supreme Court was dismissed on the ground of delay on first hearing itself on Thursday. Punjab already had a legal team headed by Senior Advocates P Chidambaram and Siddharth Luthra in the case.
Three incidents of sacrilege took place in Faridkot district between June to October 2015 leading to a huge resentment and protests in Punjab and killing of at least two civilians in the police firing. The three FIRs pertaining to the desecration soon were transferred to the CBI for investigation by then SASD-BJP government. In August 2018, Punjab Assembly passed a resolution to withdraw the cases from CBI and soon the Congress government withdrew consent from the central agency and ordered that the probe will be taken over by an SIT of the state police.
The matter soon reached the High Court but the decision of the government was saved. The court said the investigation entrusted to the CBI “had hardly made any headway” in the past four years and also made it clear that “a separate investigation by two different agencies would not be in public interest, the incidents being inextricably linked”.
Punjab DGP says files withheld due to ‘political reasons’
Meanwhile, Punjab DGP Dinkar Gupta Friday said the state had written repeatedly to the central agency for return of the case files after Assembly resolution and the HC verdict but “those guys refused to play ball”, adding “politics was at play” over there “for whatever reason”. Gupta was speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange in Panchkula.
“There was no reason for them not to send back those cases but the CBI or the DoPT… then the Government of Punjab wrote back again to the DoPT and the CBI and they sent some reply after more than a year or so and then lo and behold they put these closure reports in these three cases after doing a totally shabby and shoddy kind of investigation. They wanted to close those cases,” said Gupta adding the withdrawal of consent should have been respected by the CBI.
Questioned regarding Punjab Police Director Bureau of Investigation Prabodh Kumar’s letter, which was cited by CBI before trial court to restart the investigation, Gupta said the letter had his approval and was a deliberate thing. The CBI last year had sought a stay on operation of its own closure report citing the fresh inputs shared by Kumar in his letter, which mentioned that the state police SIT had “brought out certain aspects of investigation… which would require further probe by the CBI”.
“If we hadn’t sent that letter and god forbid the CBI trial court had accepted those closure reports, which were filed by the CBI, then the whole thing would have been end of story. We had to keep that thing alive and we had to send something to them that ‘look you haven’t looked at this aspect’. We needed a breathing time,” said Gupta, adding the letter was on administrative side.
Gupta added that the police was already investigating in other sacrilege cases of Punjab and the evidence recovered in those cases had been shared with the CBI. “But CBI for some reason wasn’t willing to look at that. We had to take it take it back to them that look this is something which you haven’t done and which you need to do. There was no contradiction,” he said.
Stating that state police’s stand was vindicated when the CBI on their own put a different team on the investigation in the cases by disbanding the earlier investigation team, Gupta said, “They started investigation de novo. CBI should have given those cases back after the High Court order and now there is the Supreme Court development”.
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