Manipur violence | Magistrates appointed to record statements in CBI cases

The 13 magistrates will be allotted one district each in Manipur, allowing witnesses and victims to record their statements with the one closest to them 

September 09, 2023 09:19 pm | Updated September 10, 2023 10:50 am IST - New Delhi

A woman takes shelter at a relief camp in Moirang town in Bishnupur district in Manipur. File.

A woman takes shelter at a relief camp in Moirang town in Bishnupur district in Manipur. File. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Manipur High Court has appointed 13 magistrates to record the statements of witnesses under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the 27 cases related to the ethnic conflict being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The High Court said they will record statements “irrespective of their territorial jurisdiction and as per convenience and availability, taking into consideration the overall situation in the State of Manipur”. The High Court notification is in compliance with the directions issued by the Supreme Court on August 25. 

Besides awaiting further instructions from the Manipur High Court on how to begin their work in the CBI cases, these judges have added that even in the 6,000-odd other cases being investigated locally, there has not been much progress in recording statements under Section 164 of the CrPC.

A senior judicial officer in Churachandpur said that their court had recorded only two statements under Section 164 of the CrPC related to the ethnic conflict so far - both in the CBI case of the Kuki-Zo women who were gang-raped, and paraded naked, and one of them killed, by a mob of the Meitei community on May 4 in Thoubal district. 

Another, in Thoubal district, said they had not yet recorded any Section 164 statements in any case related to the ongoing ethnic conflict. In the one case within their jurisdiction, the victim was elsewhere and could not appear so the statement was recorded where they were.  

According to officials aware of the process, for now, the 13 Chief Judicial Magistrates and Judicial Magistrates First Class will be allotted one district each, allowing witnesses and victims to record their statements with the magistrate closest to them and if there are any issues that come up in this system, it is to be taken with the Nodal Officer in the Manipur High Court Registry. 

The notification appointing the magistrates on September 8 has confused many of those appointed across the State. One judicial officer said it is possible that the magistrate closest to the victim is from the other community and in such a case, it would not be possible to ensure physical presence while recording the statement. 

“Some victims might not be comfortable recording their statements before a judge of the other community,” one of them said. 

Another said that in any case, no witness or victim of the “other community” could realistically be expected to come to court’s jurisdiction to record their statements. 

Given the language of the Manipur High Court on dispensing with territorial jurisdiction in the CBI cases, yet another judicial officer said that “no clear directions as of now” have been issued to them as to which cases they will be recording statements in and how the cases will be assigned to each of them.

While magistrates are the ones who record the Section 164 CrPC statements, the process to do so must be initiated by the investigating authority - the police or the CBI in case of Manipur.

The 13 judicial officers, most of whom are women, have been appointed for the cases taken over by the CBI, which include 20 cases of molestation, rape, and/or murder of women, 3 cases of looting of weapons, 2 cases of murder of men, and one case each of rioting and conspiracy. 

In the directions issued by the Supreme Court of India in the Manipur cases on August 25, the court had tabulated these 27 cases, following which it had issued certain orders for the fair administration of the criminal justice system. 

These included asking the Gauhati High Court Chief Justice to appoint one or more Sessions Judge or Chief Judicial Magistrates to hear pre-trial proceedings in the CBI cases and allowing production of accused, custody hearings, and other proceedings to be conducted in virtual mode. The top court had also directed the Manipur government to facilitate internet connectivity to allow courts to operate online. 

As per this, the Gauhati High Court had on August 31 appointed a Special CBI/NIA judge along with a CJM and an Additional CJM to handle the above-mentioned cases. The court has also allowed for any witness or victim to record their statements in Guwahati if they wished to do so.

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