The Delhi high court has asked city police commissioner Amulya Patnaik and special police commissioner Praveer Ranjan to view videos of hate speeches made by politicians which could have contributed to the violence in the Capital that took a communal turn earlier this week, leaving at least 27 dead. It asked them to do this on Wednesday itself, take a “conscious” call on the action that will be taken against these people, and inform the court of the same on Thursday.
In oral observations, the court on Wednesday exhorted the police to “just file FIRs”. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for Delhi Police, resisted, saying the atmosphere to file the cases was “not conducive”. The court’s final order did not include a direction for the FIRs.
The bench watched and also made SG Tushar Mehta watch videos of hate speeches made by four Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, Kapil Mishra, Abhay Verma, Parvesh Verma and Anurag Thakur .
This came after Mehta said he had not watched the videos.
After Mehta protested that there were other inflammatory and hate speeches made by others, the court , which became even more indignant that no action had been taken despite the presence of so many videos, ordered that Patnaik and Ranjan watch them.
“The city is burning and a constitutional court cannot be blind in its constitutional duty,” the bench of justices S Muralidhar and Tawlant Singh observed.
In a jampacked court, the bench told Mehta that it would not allow a repeat of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to take place in the city, at least not under its watch.
Two days of violent clashes between largely-Hindu supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and predominantly Muslim opponents of the law have left at least 27 people dead and at least 300 injured in the Capital, where the police have drawn criticism for failing to act promptly to break it up.
A group of protesters, mainly women, has been staging a sit-in at the Capital’s Shaheen Bangh neighbourhood since the middle of December, demanding a repeal of the law that proposes to fast-track grant of citizenship to non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The alleged inflammatory speeches, some targeted at the protesters at Shaheen Bagh, and others, more generically, at anyone opposed to CAA, were seen to have fanned the tension, and caused the eruption of violence.
The Delhi high court was hearing a plea filed by petitioners Harsh Mander and Farah Naqvi seeking the registration of first information reports (FIRs) against Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma for speeches that they claimed had incited the rioting in north-east Delhi. A video featuring Abhay Verma was also played in court on Wednesday.
“Just register FIRs. You showed alacrity in lodging FIRs for arson, why aren’t you showing the same for registering FIR for these speeches? The more and more you delay, the more problems are getting created,” the court said in a two-hour-long hearing. The arson bit refers to the 11 FIRs registered over the recent incidents of violence in the city.
The court also said the police should seriously consider the consequences that would ensue with every day’s delay in registering FIRs not only on the basis of the video clips that were played in the court but all the other videos of speeches or provocative actions by anyone, bearing in mind that the rule of law is supreme and that no one is above law.
The matter itself took a dramatic turn before it was finally heard by Justice S Muralidhar, the third senior-most judge in the Delhi high court, in the absence of the chief justice and his deputy.
When the matter was taken up, SG Mehta requested the court that the matter be adjourned for 16 hours and be taken up on Thursday, when he would file a detailed affidavit on the matter.The court, however, decided to take up the matter on Wednesday itself at 12.30pm.
The court sought to know from the SG whether he had seen the videos and sought his assistance.
The SG said that he had not seen the videos and argued that the petition seeking the registration of FIRs was not urgent. This irked the court, which then played the four videos pertaining to hate speech. It also lashed out at the police, noting that all the TV channels had been relaying Kapil Mishra’s speech.
“As a police officer, have you watched the video? It has been relayed on every TV channel and I am amazed that you have not seen the videos. Even your commissioner has a TV in his room. Are you saying that none of you has watched the video?” Justice Muralidhar asked.
In the post-lunch session, special commissioner Praveer Ranjan stated that while he had watched three of the videos, he had not seen the speech made by BJP MLA Abhay Verma.
Mehta’s attempt to seek an adjournment was objected to by Rahul Mehra, standing counsel (criminal) for the Delhi government, stating that an FIR ought to be registered against everybody as videos made out a cognizable offence.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves informed the court about the videos and said it was only after such speeches that the riots had broken out. He said an FIR for inciting mob violence should be registered.
When asked about the veracity of the videos, Gonsalves said, “They [the speakers] seem to be very proud of their statements. Arresting them would be a first step towards calming the situation”. The SG contended that there were videos from all sides involved in the violence, but the petitioners had chosen only these videos. “There’s selective public outrage based on these three videos,” said Mehta.
Mehta added that hate speeches were made by all sections during the violence, and that he had the videos to prove it. “If I start playing these clips, there will be an inflammatory situation,” said Mehta. He also accused the petitioner of lowering the morale of Delhi Police by showing the clips.
The court was not impressed by the argument. “By saying that, you’re painting the police in a worse picture,” said Justice Muralidhar. “When you have multiple clips of inflammatory speeches, what are you waiting for? Why aren’t you registering the FIR? All the videos will be placed before the Police Commissioner and he should then take a conscious decision.”
BJP MP Parvesh Verma said he would respond with a comment after Thursday’s court hearing.
Abhay Verma, the MLA from Laxmi Nagar, said: “I didn’t give any speech and I didn’t shout any slogans like ‘goli maro’ [shoot them]. There was panic among people, especially traders, in the area. Most shops in Laxmi Nagar had shut. I had gone with my supporters to defuse tension. I convinced shop owners that nothing will happen and made them open their shops again. I have full faith in the judicial system.”
Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur did not respond to repeated calls and text messages.
The matter will be heard on Thursday.
In a separate hearing at midnight on Tuesday, the Delhi high court said this was the time for the authorities to reach out to residents and show that there is security for everyone in the national capital.
“Highest constitutional functionary moves in Z+ security. This is the time to reach out and show that this security is for everyone,” a bench of justices Muralidhar and AJ Bhambhani said, hearing a plea filed by advocate Suroor Mander seeking emergency treatment and safe transfer of patients stuck at Al Hind Hospital.
The court then directed the police to ensure emergency treatment for the victims of violence and transfer them safely to GTB Hospital from Al Hind Hospital, where there weren’t sufficient facilities for treatment. The police informed the court on Wednesday that the court’s orders had been heeded.
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