New Delhi: Senior retired Indian Police Service officers have told The Wire that the instructions issued by the Delhi Police for supervisory officers to essentially go easy on Hindus suspected of violence in February’s communal riots was contrary to law, tradition and norms and that such an advisory should never have been issued by the officer concerned.
The instructions, which were leaked in the media last week, come at a time when the Delhi Police is already battling charges of partisanship in the violence – which saw 53 people killed, 40 of whom were Muslim – and the investigation, in which it has said the riots were the result of a conspiracy by Muslim activists and others opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In addition to the deaths, Muslims suffered huge property losses and have complained that the police did not react swiftly to distress calls when mobs attacked them.
On Friday, the Delhi high court on Friday pulled up the Delhi police for the instructions – which asked its personnel to exercise “due care and precaution” to avoid “Hindu resentment” while making arrests in the cases arising from the riots.
Issued by Special Commissioner (Crime and Economic Offences Wing) of Delhi Police Praveer Ranjan on July 8, and marked to “supervisory officers ACPs/DCPs — SIT & Additional CP/Crime (Headquarters)”, it called upon them to “guide the IOs (investigating officers) suitably”. Ranjan cited an “intelligence input” regarding the arrests of “some Hindu youth from Chand Bagh and Khajuri Khas areas of Northeast Delhi”.
The high court hearing began in the matter after the families of two victims of the February riots challenged the police instructions in the Delhi high court through a plea filed by advocate Mehmood Pracha. The petition, filed on the basis of an Indian Express report, sought the quashing of the July 8 note.
The July 8 order, as quoted in the Indian Express, had said that in the case of the arrest of the Hindu youth, “community representatives are alleging that these arrests are made without any evidence and are even insinuating that such arrests are being made for some personal reasons”.
While naming two Muslim men, it further stated that, “In the same area, resentment among Hindu community is also reported for alleged police inaction” against the two, “who are alleged to have been involved in mobilising members of Muslim community during Delhi riots and anti-CAA protests”.
The order also demanded that “due care and precaution be taken while arresting any person. All evidences (sic) including direct and technical evidences be properly analysed and that all the arrests are backed by sufficient evidence be ensured. No arbitrary arrest should be made in any case and all evidences must be discussed with Special PPs (public prosecutors) assigned for each case.”
‘Order should reflect uniformity of law for all’
“For any officer, the directions and advisories should be for all, not for a particular caste or community,” former Director General of UP Police Vikram Singh told The Wire. “Did he mean to say that non-Hindus require a different deal and Hindus require a different deal of cards? Discretion, care and uniform application of law are the spirit of our constitution. This is equality of law and uniform applicability of law and procedures,”
He added that the officers should ensure that their “orders are carefully worded”. “Before drafting an order, that is to come out in public domain, rest assured that every word and every sentence would be scrutinised by everyone,” he said.
‘Refrain from using caste, community names’
Singh also said that officers should refrain from using anything that has reflection or aspersions pointing to a caste or community. “Now use of caste-specific names or words is a criminal offence, but 30 years ago, we would write the caste in history sheets,” he recalled.
As for intelligence agencies, he said, “They send all kinds of inputs, but it is the duty of officers in the state to translate them into executive action. If I were to issue this order, I would have used words like ‘it is understood’ or ‘it is gathered’ that ‘there may be repercussions of indiscreet arrests’ and ‘therefore please ensure that while making arrests you follow the rules as enshrined by the Supreme Court in DK Basu versus Union of India case and matters pertaining to ‘bail not jail’.”
He said instead of saying there were “intelligence inputs” in the order, the officer should never have attributed it to other agencies.
‘Unlikely that agency like IB would comment in law and order matters’
A retired director of Intelligence Bureau, said that “it was most unlikely that any intelligence agency, like IB, would say such a thing”.
“The IB is answerable to the Home Minister or the Prime Minister and it never corresponds like this with the local police. IB is a very circumspect organisation, it is very self-effacing, so it never publicly comes out. It gives out information on counter-terrorism matters to local police or about other situations, but does not get involved,” he said.
On the functioning of the intelligence agencies, the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “As per tradition, I don’t think IB would write to Delhi police on such an issue (like NE Delhi riots). However, over the last couple of decades, things have changed. The working culture also keeps changing. So it is difficult to comment in the present scenario. IB operates from behind the curtain.”
The retired officer said it was also unlikely that intelligence agencies would get involved in law and order matters. “Law and order is a state subject, IB is part of the Central Government. In issues of national interest, like counter espionage or counter terrorism, it passes information to local police. But here is a matter of law and order which is a state subject. Even if they have to say something, they would say it to the Centre and not the state police.”
Of course, in Delhi the police reports to the Centre and not the state.
‘Propriety demands not using names, but sky has not fallen’
A former Commissioner of Police, Delhi, while requesting that he not be named, said: “When the intelligence inputs comes, the Special Branch releases information, often there is use of words like Hindu or Muslim in the internal communication as it is supposed to be top secret.”
But, he added, that when the officer further issued an advisory for use of investigators, this use of words like Hindu or Muslim should not have been done. “He should have used words like majority community or certain community.”
Stating that “propriety demands that use of such words should not be done,” he said, “but going very technically it makes no difference, because when you say majority, everyone knows what it implies. So it is not that the sky has fallen.”
‘Not right to say that explicit advisories were not issued in the past’
The former top policeman, however, added that “in a circular or advisory a senior officer should never name a religion like this. I would also advise my subordinates to refrain from using such terms – you should be as oblique and indirect as possible so that it does not irate a certain community.”
As for the issue of IB in the past never sending such communication to Delhi police and that things have changed over the past few years, the former commissioner said that is not true. “There is a presumption that explicit advisories are being issued now, and that was not the case earlier, but this is not true.”
HC terms order ‘mischievous’
Meanwhile, the Delhi high court has, while terming the communication of Ranjan “mischievous”, asked him produce before it “five communications issued on receipt of any intelligence input” to show as per his claim that he was only telling his personnel to be “careful” while making arrests and that this was a “routine practice”.
During a hearing on July 31, Justice Suresh Kait asked Ranjan to explain the need for issuing the order when there was no provision in the CrPC for such instructions. “People are arrested and due action is taken in accordance with law. Police officers know their job and no instruction is required to them for the investigation,” he remarked.
As Ranjan claimed that “an intelligence input was received by the agency and whenever such input is received, we sensitise our officers so that they exercise due care and precaution during the investigation,” the court asked him to place before it five such similar orders or letters that he or his predecessors may have issue and posted the matter for further hearing on August 7.