Petitioners can't trust Delhi Police to conduct fair probe in 15 Dec Jamia violence, Delhi HC told

In the Delhi HC hearing of a batch of pleas in the Jamia Millia Islamia violence case, petitioners demanded an independent investigation into the Delhi Police's conduct against students

FP Staff August 04, 2020 21:02:23 IST
Petitioners can't trust Delhi Police to conduct fair probe in 15 Dec Jamia violence, Delhi HC told

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday began hearing a batch of petitions in the case of the violence that broke out at the Jamia Millia Islamia university in December last year.

The petitioners, who are seeking action against the alleged excessive use of force by the Delhi Police on students of the university, told the court that an investigation "independent of the police and the CBI" should be conducted into the incident.

Maintaining that dissent is integral to democracy, petitioners also demanded that the Delhi Police should be ready to face trial for their conduct. They also said that protocols should be framed for police personnel seeking entry into universities.

On 15 December 2019, police had used batons and teargas shells to disperse a violent mob during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Police personnel had entered the university campus, saying that rioters had taken shelter inside. However, Jamia students had denied that they were involved in the violence and had alleged police brutality.

A division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan presided over the hearing on Tuesday.

Petitioners can't trust Delhi Police to conduct fair probe, court told

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves began arguments by demanding an independent inquiry into the Jamia violence. He added that petitioners cannot trust the Delhi Police to conduct a fair probe because the "chargesheet states that not a single police officer carried out any illegal activity during the violence".

He said, "Police should be the last to conduct this inquiry. Even CBI should not conduct it as it is governed by the Centre, and the protest was against Centre's CAA. The person at the top of the investigation has to be completely independent."

Gonsalves added that an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) should be given the charge of investigating the case. "It should be independent of the Delhi Police and Centre. Criminality on their part is writ large."

Presenting various testimonies from students about the incident, Gonsalves said, "They (the police) were using abusive language."

While hearing the matter, the court asked Gonsalves who had recorded the testimonies.

"Activists approached the students and asked them to write their statements in their own handwriting. They were taken one day after the violence. These testimonies were then given to the NHRC," Gonsalves responded.

The purpose of police violence in Jamia was to deter students from participating in anti-CAA protests, Gonsalves submitted, and challenged the claim of the police that not a single student was ever detained.

"This was done to send a message to students to not to embarrass the government by marching to the Parliament. Students were equally adamant to march, but it was their fundamental right to do so. Students are definitely not the enemy of the state," he added.

Gonsalves accused the police of destroying the public property themselves. "It's only in our country that police can be seen pelting stones and destroying public property", he said.

Alleging that the investigation into the violence "is completely one-sided", Gonsalves also sought the production of all videos gathered by the police.

Gonsalves also criticised the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report on the Jamia violence and said, "It is such a diluted report, no wonder the Supreme Court called it toothless tiger."

Gonsalves also presented video clips of police personnel entering the library, beating the students, and breaking CCTV cameras.

Concluding his arguments, Gonsalves submitted that no FIR had been filed against the police for the alleged brutality.

"These videos will prove the criminality of the police", he argued, questioning how the police can be trusted when their affidavit states that there was no evidence against any police official.

"How can we expect the police to conduct fair inquiry when their chargesheet states that not a single police officer carried out any illegal activity during the violence?" he questioned.

Petitioner says Jamia needs to formulate protocol for peaceful protests

Meanwhile, advocate Salman Khurshid, who submitted arguments next, said that "dissent is part of the ethos of democracy". He also urged for the formulation of a protocol for when police personnel are seeking entry into a university.

"Students were intending to conduct a peaceful gathering, they were only hoping to march towards the Parliament. Police can regulate such a march but here they decided to not to allow that march take place at all," he said.

Accusing the police of entering Jamia without prior permission, Khurshid asserted that a fact-finding committee would be able to "bring facts to public notice". "Alleged acts of vandalism in areas in vicinity of the campus can't be a justification for entering the university without permission," he submitted.

"It would bring faith to the young students who have suffered. It would be a balm," he said.

He said that the Jamia campus has a "special feature" which is a public road dividing the campus into two halves. "Students have no option but to gather on this road where they are also joined by others also."

He added that the university needs to formulate of protocol for peaceful protests. "As per these guidelines, police can only enter campus to stop peaceful protests only with the prior permission of the Chancellor."

Delhi Police should be ready to face trial, submits petitioner

Appearing third, Advocate Indira Jaising reiterated the demand for an independent inquiry into the police's "misconduct" and accused the police of doing a 'cut and paste' in the FIRs against Jamia students.

"It appears that police has done 'cut and paste' and filed the same counter in all the petitions. Similar paras can also be seen in reply filed in Delhi riots cases', she argued.

She also demanded an independent commission of inquiry headed by a retired judge of either the Supreme Court or the Delhi High Court, Live Law reported.

She added that the Delhi Police violated the principle of using minimal force "when they barged into the campus" and submitted that police was justified in carrying the riot control equipment were not justified in using them.

Jaising further argued that there has been use of excessive force by the police which has "resulted in acts of unconscionable conduct".

She added that the issue as to whether proportional force is used is a matter of inquiry which is of public importance. "Nobody is above the law."

"The law has to take its own course against the police as well. Just because you wear an uniform, it doesn't give you a right to blind a student. Police must be ready to face the trial", Jaising said.

Jaising, among other lawyers, referred to the case of a 26-year-old student who had "alleged he lost sight in one eye after being injured during the police action on campus", The Indian Express reported.

Additionally, Jaising said that it's the principle of law that institutional autonomy should be respected. "This principle shall apply to all autonomous institutions, including the universities."

Citing Section 124 of the Delhi Police Act, which clarifies that there's no impunity provided to the police for using disproportionate force or causing unreasonable violence, she said, "Police enjoys no impunity or immunity from acts of misconduct".

"Here there was no question of 'dispersing' the crowd. The students here hiding in toilets to seek refuge and protection. Stones and bottles are not firearms."

Jaising also cited the Supreme Court's orders in Vikas Dubey case and Hyderabad Encounter case to argue that an independent commission can be endowed with powers to investigate the matter.

Advocates Mehmood Pracha and Umar Khan also made submissions on Tuesday.

Pracha, appearing for one of the petitioners, submitted that the Delhi Police has "committed illegal acts by acting beyond the protocol".

"If police neutrality is compromised, they're worse then criminals," he said.

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