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Witnesses 'Planted': Former Judges Slam Delhi Police's 2020 Riots Investigation

Former judges studied 752 FIRs pertaining to IPC offenses and cited the courts' critique of the investigation.

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In many cases pertaining to the 2020 Delhi riots, the witnesses produced by the Delhi police have been found to be unreliable or planted, a newly published report by the former Supreme Court and High Court judges has said.

In its 171-page long report titled ‘Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020’, a chapter has been dedicated to the investigations carried out by the Delhi police and the discrepancies found. The committee went through 752 of the 758 FIRs filed pertaining to Indian Penal Code (IPC) offences in connection with the violence, in which 53 people died and several others were injured or had their properties damaged.

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The Quint had earlier reported on the details and key takeaways of the report.

The committee that has authored the report consists of Justice Madan B. Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Madras and Delhi High Courts and former Chairman of the Law Commission, Justice R.S. Sodhi, former Judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice Anjana Prakash, former Judge of the Patna High Court, and G.K. Pillai, former Home Secretary, Government of India. Justice Lokur is the chairperson of the committee.  

How Courts Questioned The Belated Witness' Statements

The report has cited from several court orders, where police witnesses have shown unaccounted delay in naming and identifying assailants.  
 
For instance, in October 2020, Court of Additional Sessions Judge granted bail to three accused men: Shah Alam, Rashid Saifi, and Mohd. Shadab, arrested in FIR No. 109/2020.  
 
The committee cites the court observation as follows:  

“The identification of applicants by Beat Constable Pawan is hardly of any consequence, as this Court is not able to understand as to why said Beat Constable waited till 05.04.2020 (when his statement U/s 161 Cr.P.C was recorded by the IO) to name the applicants, when he had categorically seen and identified the applicants indulging in riots on the date of incident, i.e 24.02.2020. There is gap of about 40 days between the date of incident and recording of statement of Beat Constable Pawan in the matter by the IO and no plausible explanation in this regard has been given by the IO. Being a police official, what stopped Beat Constable Pawan from reporting the matter then and there in the PS (Police Station) or to bring the same in the knowledge of higher police officers. This casts a serious doubt on the credibility of this witness.” 
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In another case, against accused Kuldeep Singh, the sessions court noted in its bail order that there was an unexplained delay of 83 days in recording the statements of police witnesses.  The court said:

“Being police officials, what stopped them from reporting the matter then and there in the PS or to bring the same in the knowledge of higher police officers. This cast a serious doubt on the credibility of aforesaid two police witnesses."

In some other cases, the courts explicitly called the police witnesses a “plant.”

For example, in case number 68/2021, the court observed:

“This silence and delay on the part of Constable Gyan Singh is not only fatal to the case of investigating agency, but it also gives an impression that he has been “planted/ introduced” to solve the case in hand.”

CCTV Footage And Call Records Questioned

In many other cases, the court observed that the public witnesses relied on by the police in forming their cases, had dubious credibility.

Notably, in a case against Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi, the Additional Sessions Judge in the Karkardooma District noted:

“In the said case the statement under Section 161 Cr.P.C of PW Rahul Kasana was recorded on 21.05.2020, on which date he did not utter a single word against the applicant qua “criminal conspiracy” and now all of a sudden, he vide his statement recorded under Section 161 Cr.P.C in the matter on 27.09.2020 blew the trumpet of “criminal conspiracy” against the applicant. This prima facie does not appeal to the senses.” 

The committee report also cites from the cases in which the courts noticed that the police have submitted CCTV footage, videos or photographs as evidence which fail to reveal any criminal actions by the accused.  
 
On 1 September, 2020, while granting bail to Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita, the Delhi high court noted:  

“Moreover, I have gone through the inner case diary produced in a sealed cover along with pen drive and found that though her presence is seen in peaceful agitation, which is fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India, however, failed to produce any material that she in her speech instigated women of particular community or gave hatred speech due to which precious life of a young man has been sacrificed and property damaged.” 

In various cases, the Call Detail Records (CDR) didn’t actually prove the police’s claims about the accused, the committee report said.

While granting bail to Umar Khalid and Khalid Saifi in one of the cases in April 2021, the court observed:

“The argument of learned Special PP that applicant had been in regular contact/touch with coaccused Tahir Hussain and Khalid Saifi over mobile phone and the same is evident from the fact their CDR location on 08.01.2020 has been found to be at Shaheen Bagh is hardly of any consequences, as prima facie that does not in any way go on to establish the criminal conspiracy alleged against the applicant in the matter.”

Dissent Note By Retired IPS Officer

The report also includes a ‘dissent note’ by Dr. Meeran Chadha Borwankar, a retired police officer and the director general bureau of police research and development.  
 
One of the points in it defend the belated witness statements:

“Having worked in police for around thirty-six years and having faced many riots in the state of Maharashtra including a judicial enquiry following a particularly violent riot in Mumbai and a magisterial enquiry in a riot where my car was charred, I can say with considerable authority that many witnesses report very late for recording of their statements by Investigating Officers. One cannot blame police for it.”

The retired police officer also stated in the dissent note that she does not agree with the “generalised inference that ‘police complicity with Hindu mobs, were contributing features of the violence’."

“However, I do not rule out some cases where police complicity with Hindu mobs did contribute to violence. To paint all police officers of Delhi police to be ‘complicit with’ Hindu mobs would be extremely unfair and unjust,” the retired police officer added.

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