SC to form panel to probe ‘security breach’ during PM’s Punjab visit

Krishnadas Rajagopal | | Updated on: Jan 10, 2022
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State government seeks ‘fair hearing before a neutral committee’

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will form a committee headed by a retired judge to conduct a time-bound and independent inquiry into circumstances which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy stuck for several minutes on a flyover in Punjab on January 5.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana indicated that ongoing inquiries by both the Punjab and Centre would have to stop for the time being.

The Court said the committee will submit a report within a specified time after examining the records regarding security arrangements which have already been seized by the Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court on its orders on January 7.

The court indicated that the High Court’s Registrar General along with the officers who helped him secure the documents, including the DGP Chandigarh, IG National Investigation Agency, will be part of the committee. There would be another member in the committee. Punjab has suggested its Additional DGP (Security) as an alternative.

Punjab Advocate General DS Patwalia, represented that the State feared it would not get a fair hearing. Show-cause notices had already been issued by the Centre to officers, mentioning disciplinary action for the security lapse on January 5.

Patwalia said all the State wanted was an opportunity for a fair hearing before a neutral committee.

“If I am guilty, please hang me and my officers... But give me a fair hearing,” Patwalia requested the court.

He said the Punjab government gives Prime Minister’s security the utmost importance and wants a full and comprehensive inquiry into any security breach that may have happened on January 5.

However, the show cause notices indicate that the Centre already considers Punjab’s police officers prima facie guilty of violating their obligations towards the Prime Minister’s security. This has been arrived at without any evidence or records, all of which have been already seized on the orders of the Supreme Court, Patwalia represented.

‘Complete breach’

Mehta countered that the show cause notices were issued before the Apex Court hearing on January 7.

He said there has been a “complete intelligence failure” on the part of the State. Besides, he submitted, it was an admitted fact that there had been a security lapse in violation of the Special Protection Group Act and the ‘Blue Book’.

“When there is a complete breach, there is no question of hearing. Officers responsible are served with notice. There is an admitted fact of breakage. This is a rarest of rare case. It cannot brook any delay,” Mehta emphasised.

But the court asked the Centre why the judiciary had been asked to intervene if the government had “presumed everything” already.

‘Court’s role?’

“The impression you give is that you have presumed everything.. Then why should the court go into all this?” the Bench asked.

At one point, Justice Surya Kant said the show cause notices seemed “self-contradictory”. There may be some lapse, responsibility has to be found on the basis of facts, he said.

“If you want to take disciplinary action, what is left for this court to do?” the CJI queried to the Centre, before conveying the decision to form the inquiry panel led by a former apex court judge.

Published on January 10, 2022

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