Deplores use of force by Delhi Police against protesters

Dismayed by the government apathy in dealing with the situation after the ghastly rape of the young paramedical student in Delhi last month, the Justice Verma Committee on Wednesday criticised Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh for giving a clean chit to Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar. It came down heavily on the Delhi Police for using force against protesters on India Gate lawns and Vijay Chowk.

The former Chief Justice of India also asked the Centre review the appointments of all State police chiefs as not as a single Director General of Police (DGP) sent his suggestions to the Committee formed to look into legal reforms needed to deal with sexual assault cases and crime against women. The government departments were also lambasted for not responding or their late response to the Committee’s letter.

“The Commissioner of Police was given a pat on his back by no less than a person holding the post of Home Secretary … I am shocked as a citizen [to see this],” Justice Verma said while releasing the Committee report on ‘Amendments to Criminal Law.’ The least he could have done was to seek an apology for the failure of the duty to protect citizens whose safety they are entrusted upon. “This much sensitivity is needed,” he said.

Justice Verma also pointed towards lack of seriousness on part of government officials and departments in responding to the Committee’s requests for sending their suggestions. “We sought response from all DGPs … hardly any one of them wrote to us. I have asked the Home Ministry to review appointments of all DGPs,” he said.

Justice Verma further said he was disappointed by the “lukewarm” response from various government departments towards the Committee.

The people who initiated the process failed to respond to the Committee’s request, he said, and added: “Some organisations sent us their recommendations as late as yesterday [Tuesday] evening.”

Stating that law enforcement agencies should be insulated from political influence, Justice Verma took a jibe at the CBI. “The CBI changes its stand when government changes … First it files application [in court] and when a government changes, it seeks its withdrawal,” he observed.

Delhi lathicharge

Referring to use of force by the police on protesters in Delhi, the Committee said: “The lathicharge on peaceful demonstrators after the December 16 gang rape has scarred the Indian democracy.” It also noted the “peculiarity” of the Delhi government not having any control over the Delhi Police, which reports to the Union Home Ministry. This is the reason given publicly by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit for the absence of responsibility of her government.”

“This ambiguity must be removed forthwith so that there is no divided responsibility in Delhi in respect of maintenance of law and order. Such a step is also essential to maintain accountability,” the report said. It also said the “undisputed facts” related to the [gang rape] incident “unmistakably” disclose the failure of many public functionaries for traffic regulation, maintenance of law and order and more importantly, “their low and skewed priority” in dealing with complaints of sexual assault.”

The Committee has also asked all MPs and MLAs facing severe charges to voluntarily quit as a mark of respect to Parliament, legislatures and the Constitution. “We have suggested amendments to Section 33A requiring the making of a declaration about the pendency of any criminal case, whether cognisance has been taken of it. A certificate from the Registrar of the High Court should be necessary for the validity of the nomination. We also suggest that, in the event cognisance has been taken by a magistrate of an offence ... the candidate ought to be disqualified from participating in the electoral process,” it recommended.

Khap panchayats

Coming down heavily on ‘khap panchayats’ (caste council), the Committee said means adopted by them have assumed “unreasonable proportions” and asked the government to ensure such bodies do not interfere with choices made by people regarding marriage. It asked the State to ensure that these institutions should not interfere with the choices made by men and women in respect of marriage, as emphasised by the Supreme Court.

The Committee said actions of khap panchayats are extremely relevant for its consideration in the context of crime against women, since one of the most prevalent practices to enforce writ was honour killing.

The logic of maintaining caste order by khap panchayats severely limits the freedom to freely choose one’s partner. Measures of khap panchayat like disallowing inter-caste marriage does not have legal sanction under the Hindu Marriage Act, it observed.

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