Monday, December 4, 2023

SC to constitute high-level panel headed by retired judge to probe PM security breach

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The Supreme Court on Monday said that it will constitute an independent committee headed by a retired top court judge to investigate the security lapse during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab on January 5. A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli will pass a detailed order on the composition of the committee. However, it has been indicated that Committee will include DGP Chandigarh, IG National Investigation Agency, Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and ADGP (security) of Punjab in the Committee.

In the meantime, the Bench asked both the Central government and the Punjab government to not go ahead with the inquiries by the Committees constituted by them. The top court was hearing a PIL seeking a judicial probe into the breach of the Prime Minister’s security while on a visit to Punjab.

During the hearing, the Punjab government urged the apex court to set up an independent commission regarding the incident. DS Patwalia, Advocate General of Punjab, said that the Central government’s Committee has issued seven show-cause notices to the officers of the Punjab government seeking an explanation why no action should be taken against them for the incident.

The Bench also questioned the Central government for issuing show-cause notices to the officials of the Punjab government over the security lapse, even as the matter was under the examination of the apex court. When the show cause notices have been sent to the officers with prima facie findings regarding their guilt over PM’s security lapse, what is the purpose of this court considering the matter, the Bench asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was appearing for the Centre. Solicitor General told the Bench that if the show cause notices pre-empt the final outcome, the Committee of Central government will examine the issue and report to Court and till then it will not act upon the notice.

Senior advocate Patwalia expressed his apprehension on the Centre’s Committee and argues that Punjab government officers may not get a fair chance to defend themselves. He said seven show-cause notices were sent, no inquiry was held, no opportunity of hearing given to them.

Punjab’s Advocate General Patwalia told the Bench that the Central government’s Committee consists of three members — Cabinet Secretary, IG SPG and the Director of IB. MHA head is heading the Committee and they are of prima facie opinion that State’s officials are guilty already, he added. “Let the independent committee be appointed as State have no hopes from this Committee,” Patwalia said. “Hang me if I am guilty but don’t condemn me unheard,” he further argued.

Solicitor General said that the show-cause notices were issued before the order of the Court when it asked both the Committees not to go ahead with their inquires. Mehta then referred to the provisions of the Special Protection Group (SPC) Act and the “Blue Book” for PM’s security. He said that PM’s convoy had reached the place near to the protest area where crowds started gathering in the morning and there were no inputs from the Director-General of police which was his responsibility. There was a complete failure of intelligence and violation of protocols, he added.

During the hearing, the Bench questioned the Centre for setting up a Committee and issuing showcase notices to Punjab officers. Justice Surya Kant told Solicitor General, “Your show cause notice is totally self-contradictory. By constituting a Committee you seek to inquire if there was a breach and then you hold state Chief Secretary and DG of Punjab guilty. Who held them guilty?”

Mehta replied that PM’s security is of paramount importance and the Centre has to look into the lapses. He added that the enquiry was against the officials who are responsible for the security protocols as per the Blue Book. The Bench told Mehta, “Yes there is a breach and the State has too admitted it, but the other issues are questions of facts and they have to be seen by independent persons… If you want to take disciplinary action against State officers what remains for this court to look into?”

Patwalia also told the court that the records have been taken into consideration by the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. On the last date of the hearing, the apex court had asked the Registrar General to secure and preserve the travel records of the Prime Minister during his visit to Punjab forthwith.

Meanwhile, several advocates of the apex court claimed to have received an automated call from an international number with a recorded message asking the Supreme Court not to “help the Modi regime” by taking up a matter related to Prime Minister’s security breach in Punjab. Lawyers say that caller claimed that he is calling on behalf of designated terror outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and the said organisation takes responsibility of PM’ security breach.

The plea in the top court was filed by ‘Lawyers’ Voice’ alleging that PM’s security breach was a deliberate lapse on part of the State and sought the preservation of evidence on security arrangements and action against “erring” officials of Punjab government.

It also sought direction to the district judge, Bhatinda to collect “all official documents and materials from all possible sources” pertaining to the movements and deployment of Punjab Police in connection with the visit at the earliest and produce the same before this court.

“Issue a writ of mandamus or any other writ, order or direction fixing responsibility of Respondent No. 2 (chief secretary) and Respondent No.3 (DGP) and place them under suspension and further direct the Respondent No. 4 (Centre) to initiate departmental action against the same,” it added.

The Prime Minister was stuck atop a flyover for 15-20 minutes while on his way to Ferozpur, Punjab earlier this month due to the road being blocked by some protesters. The Ministry of Home Affairs termed it as a “major lapse” in his security.

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