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New Delhi, February 26, 2020
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the environment in the capital was not conducive for it to hear a plea against the Shaheen Bagh protesters as the toll in the Delhi violence over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) crossed 20.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K. M. Joseph noted the inability of the police to work without taking instruction from anyone, which resulted in the spread of the violence that erupted on February 23.
Justice Joseph said: "Regarding the police inaction, I want to say certain things. If I don't, then I would not be discharging my duty... I have loyalty towards this institution, Constitution and the nation."
The apex court deferred the hearing till March 23, as it pulled up Delhi Police for its inaction over the last four days, when widespread violence spread across Gokulpuri, Jafrabad, Maujpur, Seelampur, Chand Bagh among other areas in capital's northeast.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta urged the court to refrain from making any strong observation, as it would demoralise the police force.
"In this environment, you should not make such remarks," he contended.
This did not stop Justice Joseph, who continued to make a strong observation on the police's functioning.
"The problem is lack of professionalism and independence in the police... if it were to be done before, this situation would not have arisen."
Mehta continued to object to Justice Joseph's remarks, arguing that one policeman has already died in firing by "a private bullet" and that a Deputy Commissioner of Police was nearly lynched by a mob.
"He (DCP) is on ventilator... we are not aware of ground realities where police function. This may not be a time to put the blame on the force," he said.
Expressing deep concern over the loss of lives in the spurt of violence in many parts of the city, Justice Joseph however recommended the Indian police force should learn from US and UK police, which takes action immediately without waiting for sanction of higher authorities.
"If somebody makes inflammatory remarks, they get into action. They (police) do not wait for orders," he said.
Mehta also vehemently contested this observation, saying that if Delhi Police were to act in accordance with its western counterparts, then the "courts will be the first to intervene".
The court reiterated that the Centre had not taken appropriate steps to allow Delhi Police to work professionally to instill faith in the rule of law.
Expressing anguish over the loss of life, Jutice Joseph also cited the implementation of the top court verdict in the Prakash Singh case to make police more effective and professional in its conduct.
A plea was filed seeking direction to the police to register FIRs on the complaints made in respect of the attacks that started in the evening of February 23 and escalated throughout the day ob February 24.
Declining to expand the scope of the petition, which focuses on clearing the road blockade at Shaheen Bagh, the court took cognizance of the recent spike in violence in various parts of the capital.
The top court said the Delhi High Court is already seized of the matter.
On February 17, in accordance with the apex court's direction, senior advocate Sanjay Hedge and advocate Sadhana Ramachandran held talks with the protesters at Shaheen Bagh to clear the road blockade and shift the protest to some other location. The top court had asked them to file a report on this matter.
"What happened is very unfortunate and it should not have happened....we do not to expand the ambit of Shaheen Bagh case and people can seek remedy by filing separate petition on the matter," said the top court.
Justice Kaul, after examining the report submitted by Hedge and Ramachandran, said that he had gone through the report and in order to resolve the issue, people have to come forward.
He insisted the process of engagement with people should continue. "Sometimes, the situation demands out of box solutions... we try sometimes. I have seen interlocutors (Hedge and Ramachandran) put in every endeavour (to resolve the issue), and we back them. We cannot guarantee that they will succeed," Justice Kaul said, posting the matter for further hearing on March 23.