“Nobody has that courage to make allegation against chief minister without any reason. If they want protection, then they should be given,” the court said.
New Delhi: Hearing a petition filed by the mother of Irom Roger, who died in a road rage case involving Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh’s son N. Ajay Meetei in 2011, the Supreme Court, on May 29, asked the state government to provide security to the family.
“Nobody has that courage to make allegation against chief minister without any reason. If they want protection, then they should be given. There should not be any problem in providing security to them,” the bench observed.
A vacation bench comprising Justices A.K. Sikri and Deepak Gupta also asked additional solicitor general of India Maninder Singh to seek instructions about providing security by central forces to the parents as they are now staying in Delhi. Responding to the bench, the Manipur government representative said it has no problem providing security to the family in the state.
Roger’s mother Irom Chitra filed a petition in the apex court recently, stating that she has been camping in Delhi fearing her safety in the state after Biren became the state chief minister. On May 22, the Supreme Court sought responses from the central and state governments by May 29.
On March 20, 2011, Roger died from the injury caused by a bullet shot at him from a close distance on an Imphal road. Following a probe into the case by the CBI, a lower court in Imphal charged Ajay in January with committing homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to five years in jail. Since January 7, Ajay has been lodged at the state’s Sajiwa central jail.
Recently, Ajay’s counsel has filed an application in the state high court seeking his bail, leading Chitra to file a counter application on May 12 objecting to the bail plea. She also filed the plea in the Supreme Court seeking protection and a direction from the court for an independent probe of the case by a central agency, on the grounds that the state police was working at the behest of the accused.
In a recent interview to The Wire, Chitra said, “On May 14, a group of armed policemen came to the house of a distant relative of mine, Ningombam Birjit, after midnight and picked him up. It was because he was helping me file the petition in the high court against the bail application. Two days before that, when Birjit returned from a visit to Delhi, he had been followed by armed policemen from the Imphal airport till a place near his house. Since May 14, Birjit has been kept in police lock up. Then I heard that armed policemen arrived at the family home of Binalakshmi (Nepram, a Delhi-based activist from Manipur who helped Chitra find the lawyer Utsav Singh Bains to file petitions in the high court and the Supreme Court) too when she was not present.”
She said, “None of my relatives are with me now because they are afraid. I stand alone… wherever I go, police cars tend to follow me.”
Recently, Bains alleged that he was also threatened to drop the case. He wrote to the prime minister and the Union home secretary mentioning a call from an unknown number, where the caller claimed to be from an underground group. He thereafter sought police protection while visiting Manipur in relation to the case. The state police have reportedly filed a suo moto FIR in Imphal based on his allegations.
Bains also told media that none of the high court lawyers he approached to file a fresh appeal on behalf of the victim’s family agreed to do so. Roger’s mother Chitra also mentioned non-cooperation from the local lawyers in the case. On May 29, advocate Kamini Jaiswal, appearing on behalf of Chitra in the Supreme Court, also mentioned that no one from the state risked filing an appeal in the high court against the five-year jail term granted to Ajay, leading Chandigarh-based Bains to travel to the state to do so.
Manipur lawyers protest
Meanwhile, on May 23, the All Manipur Bar Association (AMBA) registered a complaint against Bains at the Bar Council of India under Section 36 of the Advocates Act, 1961, for making “derogatory and defamatory remarks” against the lawyers of the state, particularly those practicing in the state high court, by alleging that none of them agreed to appeal on behalf of the victim’s family.
The letter to the council said, “Although, we cannot comment about the allegations of threat (from underground groups), we are however in a position to comment on behalf of all the lawyers practicing in Manipur that none of them were ever approached either by Mr Bains or by the family of the victim and if approached, we would (have been) pleased to give effective representation. It may also be mentioned that the High Court Bar association of Manipur clarified to the press regarding the same.”
Addressing a press meet in New Delhi on May 29, members of AMBA said, “His (Bains) statement was widely published in the national and state media. Being an issue involving the safety of a lawyer as well as an issue involving professional ethics of lawyers in Manipur, AMBA convened an emergency meeting to ascertain the facts and to take up necessary action. It was indeed very disheartening to have found out that the said allegation against lawyers in Manipur is totally baseless and hurled to tarnish and demean the advocates practicing in the state of Manipur.”
Khaidem Mani, a member of the Bar Council of Manipur, said, “Bains has written letters to the prime minister and the Union home secretary alleging it. But neither he nor the victim’s family has mentioned the name of any lawyer who refused them. If it turns out to be false information, then not just professional misconduct under Section 36 of the Advocates Act be used but also Section 11 of the IPC for misleading public figures.”
Advocate Momota Oinam added, “We are here only for the reason that the professional ethics of all lawyers of the state is being questioned and tarnished by that statement. As per the rules, each individual has the right to appeal to the court and a lawyer can’t take away that right. It is an offence under the Advocates Act. If a lawyer falsely accuses another of doing so, he should also be punished.”
Mani added, “We may also file defamation cases against the media houses in Delhi which circulated such allegations of Bains. Why didn’t they bother to take the other point of view?”
Later, speaking to this correspondent, Bains said, “I have disclosed the names of the Manipur-based lawyers asked to file the petition in the state high court in the (SC) petition. I have attached the evidence of refusal.” He shared with The Wire the following WhatsApp interactions he had with some Imphal-based lawyers.
Bains said that instead of holding a press conference, the lawyers should help the victim’s mother get justice. “It’s really such a sorry state of affairs, lawyers join the noble profession and it is our duty to get justice to all in need, and except in the manner as set out in the Bar Council Rules, lawyers cannot refuse to represent anyone. I’m just doing my duty as a lawyer, despite there being a threat to my life from terrorists. I decided to file an appeal against the order of the sessions judge on behalf of the victim’s mother and represent them in the high court of Manipur at Imphal.”
Note: This article was edited after publication to add Utsav Singh Bains’ response to queries The Wire had sent.