Complete breakdown of law, order & constitutional machinery in Manipur, says SC, summons DGP

New Delhi: State police have lodged 6,523 FIRs after ethnic violence first erupted, Centre says

BY | Tuesday, 1 August, 2023

Observing there is complete breakdown of law and order and constitutional machinery in Manipur, the Supreme Court Tuesday rapped the state police for “tardy” and “lethargic” probe of incidents of ethnic violence, especially those targeting women, and summoned the DGP to answer its queries on August 7.

Excoriating the law enforcement machinery over unbridled ethnic violence, it said the state police have completely lost control over the law and order situation, and sought details from the state government in a “tabulated format” segregating cases involving murder, rape, arson and loot, destruction of house and property, places of worship, and outraging of modesty of women.

The Centre, represented by Attorney General R Venkataramani and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, urged the bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud that instead of the two FIRs related to a video showing women being paraded naked by a mob, all 11 out of 6,523 FIRs linked to violence against women and children may be transferred to the CBI and tried out of Manipur.

Hearing a clutch of petitions on the mayhem in the northeastern state, a bench, also comprising justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, said it was considering setting up a committee comprising former high court judges to monitor the probe and the subsequent trial in all FIRs as it will be difficult for the CBI to handle them alone.

“At the present stage, the material which has been disclosed before the court is inadequate as there is no segregation of 6,523 FIRs into the nature of the offences to which they pertain. The state must carry out the exercise of segregation and inform the court on how many FIRs pertain to cases involving murder, rape, arson and looting, destruction of house property and outraging of modesty and destruction of places of religious worship,” the bench said in its order.

“Based on the preliminary data submitted before the court, 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 have been few and far between,” the order said.

The bench said for enabling it to take stock of all dimensions of the investigation conducted so far, the director general of police (DGP) of Manipur will have to appear on Monday to answer its queries.

As the hearing began, the solicitor general, appearing for the Centre and the Manipur government, told the bench the state police have lodged 6,523 FIRs after ethnic violence first erupted in in early May.

The moment the law officer opened the submissions by referring to actions taken by the police, the CJI raised a volley of questions on the delay in registering the FIR in the viral video case, recording of the statements of the victim women and other necessary legal requirements which should have been complied with promptly.

“We are in the midst of a war of a different dimension. There are incidents in the border areas which are deeply disturbing. We need a calibrated approach in this case,” the attorney general said.

The bench, which was in no mood to relent, said, “For two months, the situation was not conducive for even registering FIRs. This gives us the impression that from May towards the end of July, there was an absolute breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state to the point that you could not even register an FIR.

“The police could not make an arrest because the situation was out of control. The police officer could not enter an area to make the arrest. Assuming that to be true, does this not point to the fact that there was a complete breakdown of law and order and constitutional machinery of the state. If the law and order machinery cannot protect the citizens then where the citizens are left,” the bench said.

Perusing the status report, the CJI said the zero FIR in the video case was lodged on May 4 and the regular one was registered after 14 days and the statement of the victims recorded on July 26.

“Mr Solicitor, look at the investigation. It is too lethargic. The FIRs registered after two months, arrests not made, statements recorded after so much lapse of time,” it said, adding “One thing is very clear that there is a long delay in registering FIR in video cases.”

The law officer tried to impress upon the court that harsh observations made by it may impact the prevailing ground situation in the state.

“I am trying to be as impartial as possible and addressing my lords dispassionately only on facts because some of the emotive pleas, if true, would be very very serious and, if not true, then also very very serious as made before the highest court of the country,” the solicitor general said.

All officers in police stations have been directed to be sensitive to sexual violence reported by women and children, he said.

The court was also critical of the fact that so far only seven people, including a juvenile, have been arrested in 11 cases of violence against women and children in the state.

Mehta said considering the situation on the ground some delay may have happened.

“But the moment the central government came to know about one incident we took action,” he said, adding the situation is now returning to normal.

“The moment we came to know about the first incident (of torture of women), we not only transferred it to the CBI, we requested this court to monitor. There cannot be a more fair and transparent manner under the circumstances,” he said.

The court then accepted the submissions of the law officers that they needed time to respond to the queries of the top court after a meeting with the state officials.

Tension had soared in Manipur, tormented by unabated ethnic violence, after a May 4 video surfaced recently that showed two women from one of the warring communities being paraded naked by a mob from the other side.

Earlier in the day, the top court directed the CBI not to proceed with recording the statements of the victim women during the day as it is scheduled to hear a batch of petitions on the issue at 2 pm.

The bench took note of the submissions by lawyer Nizam Pasha, appearing for the two women, that the CBI has asked them to appear and depose before it during the day.

The top court had on Monday described as “horrendous” the video amid reports that the police handed the helpless women over to the rioting mob. It asked searching questions about delayed registration of the FIR and mooted the idea of setting up a committee of retired judges or an SIT to oversee the probe.

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