New Delhi: In its order on August 7 – through which the Supreme Court constituted a committee of three woman judges of high courts to look into the humanitarian aspects of the ethnic violence in Manipur – the division bench also issued a number of directions.
The directions came after a bench comprising Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Misra heard several petitions on the Manipur violence. Among the petitioners were two women from the Kuki-Zomi community who were paraded naked and sexually assaulted by a mob. The court has earlier been critical of the governments’ handling of the violence, which has gone on for over three months, led to the death of 150 people and to tens of thousands being displaced.
On August 1, it had called police investigation “tardy” and asked Manipur’s Director General of Police to be present in court to be able to answer judges. In its August 7 judgment, the court has repeated the word “tardy.”
“There has been a considerable lapse between the occurrence and the registration of FIRs, recording of witness statements and even the arrests are few and far between,” the bench said.
In its August 7 order, bench noted that the process of investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation shall be monitored by the apex court. Former Maharashtra Director General of Police, Dattatray Padsalgikar, was appointed supervisor.
It also directed the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to place at the disposal of the CBI, five Deputy Superintendent of Police-rank officers from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and the Delhi National Capital Territory, at least one of whom is a woman. These officers will need to submit periodical information and reports to Padsalgikar.
The court also asked Padsalgikar to investigate the allegations that certain police officers colluded with perpetrators of violence (including sexual violence) during the conflict in Manipur and submit a report to the court. It directed the Union and Manipur governments to provide any assistance required in order to carry out this investigation.
The court ordered the formation of no fewer than 42 special investigation teams. One, headed by a superintendent-rank officer to look at FIRs related to murder and other heinous crimes, and another, including a female inspector for FIRs related to rape, outraging of modesty and such other sexual offences.
Other FIRs will be investigated by SITs headed by an officer not below the rank of deputy superintendent of police.
The court asked for six SITs for the districts of Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur and Kakching, and three for Thoubal and Tengnoupal districts. These SITs will be supervised weekly by an officer of the rank of deputy inspector general of police, inspector general of police or additional director general. In addition, the DGP will also monitor these cases fortnightly.
The apex court also said that in order to ensure proper monitoring and supervision of the investigation by the police authorities, the Union home ministry shall depute one officer of the rank of Police Inspector each from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and the NCT of Delhi. At least 14 officers not below the rank of superintendent of police are to be in charge of the respective SITs, said the Supreme Court.
SITs comprising women officers should be in charge of the investigation of crimes involving sexual violence. The court also mandated that SITs probing such violence stick to Supreme Court directions issued in Nipun Saxena v. Union of India and XYZ v. State of Madhya Pradesh.
The Supreme Court on July 31 had said that the sexual violence incident in Manipur cannot be justified by saying that “this and this happened elsewhere”.
Stress on inclusion
The apex court in its August 7 order also said that each SIT will visit each relief camp within the area assigned to it and make it known that it is an impartial body which is accepting complaints of violence, including sexual violence. “This is necessary because many survivors / victims may not approach the police machinery of their own accord, especially in the aftermath of sectarian violence which may have resulted in the loss of family members and homes, displacement, and trauma to their own bodies and minds,” the court said.
Crucially, the apex court also said that SITs constituted by Manipur government shall not consist exclusively of members belonging to either one of the communities involved in the clashes in the state.
The court also noted that the victims of violence must receive remedial measures irrespective of their community.
Likewise, it said, the perpetrators of violence must be held accountable irrespective of the source of violence.
The bench also addressed widespread concerns over police having favoured one community over another.
“There are serious allegations including witness statements indicating that the law-enforcing machinery has been inept in controlling the violence and, in certain situations, colluded with the perpetrators. Absent a proper investigation, this Court will not enter a finding of fact on these allegations. But, at the very least, such allegations require an objective fact-finding to be conducted,” it said.
Those who are responsible for a breach of public duty must equally be brought to account, regardless of their rank, position, or post, the order said.
“Every officer of the state or other employee of the state who is guilty not only of the dereliction of their constitutional and official duties but of colluding with perpetrators to become offenders themselves, must be held accountable without fail. This is the promise of justice that the Constitution demands from this Court and from all branches of the state,” it said.