The Manipur government’s status report on 6,523 FIRs points to an “absolute breakdown of the constitutional machinery” in the State since ethnic violence broke out at the beginning of May, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
“This shows that from the beginning of May till the end of July, there was an absolute breakdown of constitutional machinery. There was no law in the State… a complete breakdown of law and order. If law and order cannot protect citizens, where are we left?” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a three-judge Bench, asked the Manipur government, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta.
The Supreme Court directed the Manipur Director General of Police to be personally present in the Court on August 7 at 2 p.m, adding that he should be in a position to answer the questions of the Court.
Tardy probes; few arrests
In its order, the Court said that, on prima facie analysis, the police investigation into the cases was “tardy”. There was a “considerable lapse of time” between the occurrence of the incidents and the registration of FIRs and recording of witness statements. Arrests were “few and far between”, the Bench noted.
Mr. Mehta surmised that the police may have been restricted as the situation in the State on the ground was not “conducive”.
“From May 4 to July 27, the picture is clear that the police were not in charge… Was the situation so not conducive that even FIRs could not be registered? Except for one or two cases, there are no arrests at all. The investigation was so lethargic… FIRs were registered in many cases after only two months. Statements were not recorded…” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed.
The court said the burden of probing over 6,500 cases single-handedly may leave the CBI “dysfunctional”. In fact, the day began with the apex court stopping a CBI team from recording the statements of the rape survivors in the Thoubal case at noon, just two hours before the court hearing was scheduled at 2 pm.
FIRs registered months later
The hearing saw the Court peruse the status report prepared overnight by the State government. The Court found a case in which a mother was dragged out of her car and lynched, along with her son, by a mob on May 4. The FIR was registered only on July 23.
The Court noted another case in which a man was “done to death” and his house set on fire. Again, the FIR was registered two months later. In another case, the CCTV footage was found to be “auto-deleted” by the time the investigators began their job.
The State government’s status report said that there had been 150 deaths, including 59 deaths between May 3 and May 5. Another 28 people lost their lives between May 27 and May 29. Thirteen more died in the violence on June 9.
The report showed that 502 people were injured in the clashes. There were 5,107 cases of arson. It said that 252 people had been arrested, with another 12,740 arrests made as a preventive measure.
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‘Transfer 11 FIRs to CBI’
The report said that a preliminary examination of the 6,523 cases, registered between May 3 and July 30, show that 11 FIRs involved crimes against women and children, though this was subject to further verification. Seven arrests have been made in these 11 cases.
Mr. Mehta said that the Centre, with the consent of the Manipur government, was willing to transfer these 11 FIRs to the CBI as an immediate measure. Senior advocate Jaideep Gupta said that there was a twelfth FIR of a woman burnt alive, while advocate Nizam Pasha, representing the Zomi Students Federation, said that five FIRs highlighted by him were not among the 11 in the list presented by the Solicitor-General. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said that there was another case where a young boy had been beheaded.
The Court said that the information provided by the State in the current status report was “inadequate”, with Chief Justice Chandrachud noting that the FIRs have not been “disaggregated”.
“You have not said how many of these cases involve murder or rape, arson and looting, destruction of house and property, destruction of religious worship, grievous hurt, etc.,” the Court addressed the State government.
The Court directed that by the next hearing on August 7, the State is to give additional information, including the dates of commission of offences; dates of registration of zero FIRs; dates on which witness statements were recorded in these cases; dates on which Section 161 statements were recorded; dates of arrests; and the names of the accused persons in the FIRs.