Senior officers relegated powers to juniors while others failed to respond on time to warnings from the Centre. This is what the Prakash Singh panel investigating the incidents that led to large-scale arson and violence during the Jat agitation in February has found.
The panel is in the final stages of finishing its report, which The Indian Express has accessed. Around 3,000 witnesses have deposed before it. Many witnesses told police that top officers, including of police, panicked when the violence began. The panel’s report will talk about senior officers “shirking away” from their responsibilities and taking questionable decisions.
An IAS officer posted as deputy commissioner in one of the worst-hit districts during the agitation delegated all the magisterial powers to the additional deputy commissioner soon after the violence began on February 19, found the panel. For three days, the DC operated from his residence while the ADC exercised the powers of a district magistrate.
When the panel questioned the DC about it, the officer justified the move to let a junior officer be in charge, and also tried to transfer the blame onto the district police chief.
“There is a chain of command,” the DC is learnt to have told the panel. “First lieutenants reach the battle line, then follows the captain, then the major and then the lieutenant colonels and colonels and so on. The generals do not expose them at the battlelines.”
When contacted by The Indian Express, the DC said, “There are situations where written orders have to be issued for giving magisterial powers to ADCs. Otherwise, by virtue of their designations, they are empowered to exercise such powers. As far as going to the affected spot is concerned, if a spot is worth the BDO’s visit, he goes; if the spot merits the visit of the SDM or the tehsildar, they go; similarly the ADC… We know how the hierarchy works. What will happen if the Chief Minister visits the affected area himself.”
The DC added that the role of police in the district was found lacking and that information about the lax approach of the police and the district police chief had been sent to the chief secretary and other concerned officers.
The panel has also questioned then Rohtak inspector general of police Shrikant Jadhav’s decision to summon Jhajjar district SP Sumit Kumar from Jhajjar to Sonipat on February 19 evening. After Kumar had left for Rohtak with a large number of his men, Jhajjar was run over by protesters. As the panel found, while Sumit Kumar tried to rush back to Jhajjar, it took him several hours to cover the 33-km distance as the protesters dug up the main roads and raised blockades.
After the violence subsided, Jadhav became the first officer of the Haryana Police to be shunted out from Rohtak and was later placed under suspension.
The panel has also questioned the IGP’s absence from Rohtak during February 20-21. Jadhav had argued that he was sent out of the district by a senior officer as he is a Dalit and could have been targeted by Jats.
Statements of key officers at the helm of affairs during the Jat agitation also show that the state government had “specific inputs” on the breach of the Munak canal in Sonipat from the Centre. The Cabinet Secretariat had passed on the inputs to Haryana 24 hours before the canal was breached. However, a senior IAS officer posted in Sonipat could not secure the canal and it was eventually damaged on February 20.
It took the Army two days to seize back control of the spot where the canal was breached, and a couple of days more before water supply to Delhi through the canal was restored. The repair of the canal went on till March 8.
Sources say the panel also found that while the Union Home Ministry had set up a Control Room and held meetings at least twice a day between February 19 when the violence began, and February 22, when the canal was brought back under control, Haryana’s top officers failed to take corresponding action.
The panel is likely to castigate the chief secretary, additional chief secretary (Home) and DGP among others for failing to set up a control room in Chandigarh where all the districts could send inputs on the status of the violence and action taken.
In another observation indicating the level of panic in the police, the panel also accessed a wireless message sent by a superintendent of police-rank officer to his subordinates to collect arms and ammunition lying in police stations and hide them away at “safe locations” ahead of approaching Jat mobs. The same SP though fought off protesters in other instances, and saved several places from being torched by arsonists.
The panel has found that police officers hid the arms and ammunition in the homes of sarpanches and elders in villages.
The panchayat polls had concluded on February 16, and the arms and ammunition deposited with police ahead of the elections were still lying in police stations.
The SP who had sent out the wireless message defended the decision to move arms and ammunition, saying preventive measures had to be taken since a gun-house had been attacked in Rohtak. He declined to comment further citing the ongoing probe.
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