Updated: February 28, 2020 9:13:52 am
A day after it was directed by a Delhi High Court bench headed by Justice S Muralidhar to register FIRs against four BJP leaders and others who made hate speeches in the run-up to the communal violence in northeast Delhi, the Delhi Police and the Centre, which was made an impleader Thursday, repeated their claim that the “prevailing situation” was not “conducive” to lodge the FIRs.
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The bench of Chief Justice D N Patel, accepting their submission, adjourned the hearing until April 13, in the process granting police a four-week breather. In CJ Patel’s absence Wednesday, the matter was listed before the bench of Justice Muralidhar who, questioning the conduct of police and making it listen to video clips of the hate speeches, had ordered that a decision on FIRs be taken by Thursday and the court duly informed. Late Wednesday, the government notified the transfer of Justice Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
Justice Muralidhar’s bench had pulled up Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, telling him: “You say that it is not an appropriate stage. As per you, when will it be that stage? After the city has burnt down? How many more lives have to be lost?… Why are you not showing alacrity when it comes to registration of FIR in these cases? We want peace to prevail. This city has seen enough violence. Let it not repeat 1984.”
On Thursday, as the death toll in the violence climbed to 38, the Delhi Police announced it had constituted two special investigation teams of the Crime Branch to investigate the incidents. FIRs relating to arson and violence in the northeast district were transferred to the SITs.
The bench of Chief Justice Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar granted the Centre four weeks to file a counter-affidavit to the plea by activists Harsh Mander and Farah Naqvi on registration of FIRs against BJP leaders Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Sahib Singh and Abhay Verma and others over their hate speeches.
Unlike Wednesday, when Justices Muralidhar and Talwant Singh questioned the Solicitor General repeatedly over the delay in lodging FIRs and had video clips of the hate speeches played in open court with proceedings lasting through the day, the hearing Thursday was over in less than an hour.
The packed court room only heard submissions of the petitioners, Solicitor General Mehta and the counsel for the Delhi government.
“…Having heard and looking to the facts and circumstances of the case, the Union of India is impleaded as a party to the petition… Time to file counter-affidavit is granted to Union of India. Matter to be heard next on April 13,” the bench said.
This came after Mehta submitted that since they were the stakeholder “it’s our duty to maintain law and order situation”. Referring to Wednesday’s directions, he said: “In respectful compliance with the directions of this Hon’ble Court, the competent authorities have examined all audio/video CDs as well as material including Twitter which were made available.”
“After having carefully considered all these materials, a conscious decision is taken to defer the decision on the question. Considering the prevailing situation, it is the considered opinion of the police authorities that any decision at this juncture may not be conducive for restoration of normalcy. The decision will be taken at an appropriate stage in accordance with law,” he said.
“So far as other reliefs prayed for in the petition are concerned, it is most respectfully prayed that this Hon’ble Court may grant a reasonable time to file an affidavit in reply. All law enforcing agencies including the police department are doing their best to ensure that normalcy is restored as early as possible… The condition is not conducive at this moment. FIRs will be registered at an appropriate time. Action will be taken against the hate speech,” he said.
His submission was, however, opposed by Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra. Pointing out that 48 FIRs have been registered regarding the riots and violence, he said, “Why not register FIR for hate speech?… The paramount concern should be the welfare of citizens at this moment. All of them are not here. They are suffering.”
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, opposed the SG’s submission and said that in line with the Supreme Court’s order, an FIR is must over a hate speech. “It (hate speech) is more than murder, these persons should be arrested and put in jail,” Gonsalves said, adding that prior to the riots, the ongoing protests had been proceeding peacefully.
Meanwhile, the Lt Governor has appointed SG Mehta and three others to represent Delhi Police in this matter and all other matters relating to the law and order situation in northeast Delhi February 23 onward. The order was passed after Rahul Mehra objected to the SG representing the Delhi Police, saying that was his mandate under the law.
Several petitions have been filed in the High Court. Some seek impleadment in the plea by Mander and Naqvi. Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad and others have sought intervention in the petition, citing concern about the safety of the people.
Another petition sought registration of FIRs against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan, AIMIM leaders Waris Pathan, Akbaruddin Owaisi, advocate Mehmood Pracha, actor Swara Bhaskar, RJ Sayema for alleged hate speeches.
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