SC asks HC to secure records of security for PM’s Punjab visit

Supreme Court of India. File

Supreme Court of India. File

The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to “forthwith” seize and secure records of the security measures for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab on January 5.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana orally asked Punjab and the Centre to meanwhile put on hold the enquiries of its respective committees till Monday, the next date of hearing.

The Prime Minister’s motorcade was stranded on a flyover in Punjab for 15 to 20 minutes.

The incident created a furious exchange of accusations in public fora and developed into a political fistfight. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court accusing the Punjab police of “connivance”. It claimed the incident posed the “single biggest lapse in security of any Indian Prime Minister in recent years”.

‘Cross-border terrorism’ angle

On Friday, appearing before the Bench, the Centre joined with petitioner NGO Lawyer’s Voice and expressed suspicions about the security lapse having a “potential cross-border terrorism” angle. It submitted that prior to the Prime Minister’s visit, a banned organisation abroad published a video exhorting people to certain acts. It said the presence of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the investigation was essential.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the event could be pegged as “rarest of rare” as it could have unfolded into an “international embarrassment” for India.

Mr. Mehta again agreed with senior advocate Maninder Singh, for the petitioner, to urge the court to immediately direct the seizure and protection of records pertaining to the security arrangements that were in place for the Prime Minister's motorcade. The Centre and the petitioner said the court could carve the way ahead once the evidence was protected.

Mr. Mehta said, “The investigation should rise above central and State politics”.

Punjab, represented by Advocate General D.S. Patwalia, accepted that the incident was “very, very grave in nature”. It, however, expressed the apprehension that the Centre, through its committee, would pile the blame for the lapse entirely on the police. He alleged that there were chinks in the Special Protection Group’s (SPG) measures too.

‘Reeks of politics’

Mr. Patwalia informed the court that it was ready to face a “neutral” panel that would hear all sides on the issue. The Lawyer’s Voice petition “reeked of politics”, he observed. “The Chief Minister has said that this our Prime Minister,” he submitted. Punjab said it was the first to constitute an probe committee.

Both the Centre and Punjab traded allegations at the neutrality of their respective committees during the hearing.

Though the Centre suggested that the Bathinda district judge could collect and secure the records with the assistance of the NIA, the Bench decided to give the responsibility to the senior official of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

“We direct the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court, to secure the records forthwith,” the apex court ordered.

It also ordered the Punjab government, including State police authorities; the SPG; other central and State agencies to cooperate and assist the Registrar General to seize and protect the records. It further directed the Director General of Police (DGP), Union Territory of Chandigarh, and NIA officers to be included in the team to assist the Registrar General to collect the records.

During the hearing, Mr. Patwalia said the separate committees of the State and the Centre have been asked to submit reports on their findings in the 24 to 72 hours. The Centre had called the DGP to give a report in 24 hours. “They are being summoned as part of a fact-finding enquiry... But my committee will hold its horses till Monday,” he stated.

Chief Justice Ramana addressed Mr. Mehta, “Please hold your committee... Now we are collecting the records. Let it wait till Monday”.

The Solicitor General agreed to convey this to the government.

Mr. Singh submitted that the apex court should decide what step to take further once the evidence was secured and kept in protective custody. The court should lay down guidelines as the country cannot afford further breaches in the security of the Prime Minister, he stressed.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 2:58:06 am |