The Delhi High Court Wednesday witnessed a verbal spat between lawyers appearing for the Delhi government and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) over who will represent the state in an appeal by a death row convict in 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.While Delhi government’s standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra said he has the right to appear for police and the state in the case before the High Court, Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi said he has been authorised by the Home Ministry, which had constituted the SIT to probe the riot cases, to represent the prosecution.
Mehra strongly objected to Lekhi’s appearance in the matter, saying he has been duly appointed through a notification to represent the Delhi Police and no one, including even the Attorney General of India, can appear in a matter when the standing counsel is present there.
A bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal asked Lekhi and Mehra to lower their pitch and stop addressing each other before them.“Don’t do this in the court,” the bench asked, and said that the job of the SIT was to investigate the incident and file the chargesheet. Given that the trial has concluded, what is the SIT’s role now, it asked.
The bench orally observed that the state is the prosecutor and SIT cannot take the place of the state. It also asked the ASG to show the notification engaging him in the matter, to which the ASG said he was appearing in the case with instructions to appear.
The bench, however, said, “The state is the prosecutor. Mehra represents the state and there is nothing today which can prevent him. You (Lekhi) cannot represent the state, only Mehra can do it unless you show an order in this regard. Let Mehra represent the state and you represent your client (SIT). SIT by no stretch can be called state. State is state.”
The exchange of words took place during the hearing of a plea by Yashpal Singh, who has challenged the death sentence awarded to him.
It was also hearing the reference sent by the state to confirm Singh’s death sentence. As per the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the death penalty cannot be executed unless confirmed by the High Court.
The court has now listed the matter for further hearing on January 29.
The trial court had on November 20 awarded death sentence to Singh and life imprisonment to co-convict Naresh Sherawat in the case relating to the murder of Hardev Singh and Avtar Singh in Mahipalpur on October 31, 1984 in the wake of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. This was the first death penalty awarded in cases probed by the SIT, constituted in 2015 to re-investigate “serious criminal cases”. The Delhi Police had closed the case in 1994 for want of evidence, but it was reopened by the SIT.
A fine of Rs 35 lakh each was also imposed by the trial court on the two convicts, and the money will be paid to the families of the victims.
The trial court judge had said that incidents like the 1984 riots destroy the “entire fabric of trust” among communities.
A case was first registered at Mehrauli police station in 1984. Following investigation, a chargesheet was filed against an accused, who was acquitted in 1986. Later, when the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission was constituted, a “first informant”, Santokh Singh, filed an affidavit stating that 500 people looted Mahipalpur in 1984.
Based on this affidavit, another FIR was registered in 1993, and an ACP-rank officer filed an “untraced report” in court. The Metropolitan Magistrate, however, had said, “Police were at liberty to file challan as and when accused persons were arrested.” A chargesheet in the case was filed by the SIT formed in 2015.