The Supreme Court slammed the Manipur police investigation into the ethnic violence as “lethargic”. It went so far as to say there is an “absolute breakdown of law and order and machinery of the State.”
The Court was shocked to learn that FIRs were not filed until nearly three months after the occurrences and that of the 6000 FIRs filed over the violence, few arrests have been made thus far. The Court ordered the Director General of Police of Manipur to appear in person on Monday, August 7 at 2:00 p.m.
“Based on the preliminary data, it does prima facie appear that the investigation has been tardy. There has been a considerable lapse between the occurrence and the registration of FIRs, recording of witness statements and even the arrests are few and far between. In order to enable the Court to appreciate the entire dimensions of the nature of investigation that is required, we direct the DGP of Manipur to be personally present in the Court at Friday 2 PM and be in a position of answer the queries of the Court“, the Court observed in the order.
A bench composed of the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra was hearing a number of petitions pertaining to the violence in Manipur, including petitions lodged by victims of sexual violence. After underscoring the systemic nature of violence, the bench posed several questions to the State yesterday.
Today, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, representing the State, informed the Court that there have been 6532 FIRs filed, 11 of which relate to offences against women.
CJI requested the number of ‘zero’ FIRs. CJI also inquired about the dates at which ‘zero’ FIRs were converted to standard FIRs. Officers prepared the chart relating to 6532 FIRs overnight, and the SG was briefed during the day, so he is unable to provide an immediate response.
CJI also inquired about the date of arrests in the sexual violence video case. SG was unable to provide a definitive response but stated that “it appears to be, subject to correction, after the video surfaced.”
Long delays in filing FIRs; a total breakdown of law and order; the State police’s loss of control. “One thing is abundantly obvious. There is such a long delay in filing FIRs”, CJI said after going through the note submitted by the SG. “FIR was registered on 7th of July in respect of an incident of 4th of May. It was a serious incident” CJI said this in reference to an incident in which a woman was dragged from a vehicle and her son was lynched to death.
CJI observed that, with the exception of one or two cases, there are no arrests.
“Investigations are so sluggish. FIRs registered two months later. No arrests were made. Statements made after an extended period of time,” CJI added. S reported that the situation on the ground was dire, and as soon as the Centre became aware, action was taken.
“This gives us the impression that from the beginning of May till the end of July there was no law. There was absolute breakdown of machinery that you could not even register FIR. Does it not point to the fact that there is a complete breakdown of law and order and machinery of the State?“CJI asked.
“State police is incapable of investigation. They have lost control. There is absolutely no law and order”, CJI. “In 6000 FIRs, you have made 7 arrests!” CJI exclaimed. SG clarified that the 7 arrests were related to the viral video incident and that a total of 250 arrests and 12,000 arrests were made as preventative measures.
“Your lordship’s words may have unintended consequences; they could be used or abused in unintended ways,” SG said.
The CJI also inquired as to whether the police officers who handed over the women to the rabble were interrogated. “There are statements of the women saying that the police men handed over them to the mob. Have those policemen been interrogated? Has the DGP enquired?What is the DGP doing? It is his duty“, CJI thundered.
“It’s clear that for the two months, the state police was not in charge. They may have made performative arrests but they were not in charge. Either they were incapable of doing it or uninterested“, CJI said.
BIFURCATE THE FIRs
The bench also stated that it is impracticable to transfer all FIRs to the CBI because doing so would bring the federal agency to its knees. S stated that the current proposal is to transfer the eleven sexual assault cases to the CBI.
“Therefore, a mechanism must exist to divide these 6500 FIRs. Because the CBI cannot be burdened with all 6,500, otherwise the CBI mechanism will also fail”, the CJI stated.
Regarding the bench’s question about the classification of FIRs based on the nature of the crimes, S requested until Friday to complete the task. The Court ordered the state to disclose the number of FIRs involving murder and rape, arson, destruction of residential property, outraging of modesty, destruction of religious sites, and grievous bodily harm.
The bench called for a statement setting out-
- Date of occurrence
- Date of registration of zero FIR
- Date of registration of regular FIR
- The date on which witness statements have been recorded
- The date on which 164 statements have been recorded
- Date of arrests made
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CJI indicated that the Court may consider forming a committee of former High Court judges to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the situation, rehabilitation, and restoration of homes and to ensure that the pre-investigation procedure pertaining to the recording of statements is carried out properly.
CJI also solicited opinions from the parties regarding who should conduct the investigation of the cases. He stated that transferring all cases “lock, stock, and barrel” to the CBI is impractical.
In addition, the State police are unable to conduct the investigation. Therefore, it is necessary to establish an independent body.
CJI Chandrachud also emphasised that a consistent approach will be taken regardless of the victim’s identity. Our approach is the same regardless of who committed the offence.
A crime is a crime regardless of the victim or perpetrator.
Concerns Regarding Unclaimed Corpses
During the hearing, the petitioners expressed concern that the relatives of victims are unable to retrieve their bodies from mortuaries due to communal tension.
“Most of the unclaimed bodies are those of the infiltrators who came with certain agenda…” SG said.
Advocate Nizam Pasha objected to this submission. Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves said that several bodies of tribal victims are lying unclaimed as families have not been informed.
“See that the bodies are identified Mr S and if families can be put in touch…and give us information on compensation etc“, CJI told SG.