SAYING THAT the “blame game” and “war of words” between the Centre and Punjab government may “impair the need of a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture”, the Supreme Court on Wednesday appointed its former judge, Justice Indu Malhotra, to head a five-member committee to probe the security breach during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab on January 5.
While both the Centre and the Punjab government had set up separate probe panels, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana said it is “of the considered opinion that these questions cannot be left to be resolved through one-sided enquiries”, and a “judicially trained independent mind” is needed.
“Till conclusion of the proceedings of the enquiry committee…, the enquiries ordered by the central government and the state government shall be kept in abeyance,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
Besides Justice Indu Malhotra, the probe panel will include Director General of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) or his nominee not below the rank of Inspector General of
Police, Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh, and Additional Director General of Police (Security), Punjab, as members and the Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court as member-cum-coordinator.
The bench noted that while the fact of the security breach is not disputed, “there is, however, a blame game between the state and central government as to who is responsible for such lapses”. Saying that the “war of words between them is no solution”, the bench said “it may rather impair the need of a robust mechanism to respond at such a critical juncture”.
The bench agreed with the petitioner’s counsel, Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, that “not only are the officer(s)/ authority responsible for the… lapse liable to be identified, but there is also a greater urgency to evolve new measures that may ensure there is no recurrence of such lapses in the future”.
The court said it is “of the considered opinion that these questions cannot be left to be resolved through one-sided enquiries”. “A judicially trained independent mind, duly assisted by officers who are well acquainted with the security considerations and the Registrar General of the High Court who has seized the record pursuant to our earlier order, would be best placed to effectively visit all issues and submit a comprehensive report for the consideration of this court,” it said.
While the court asked the committee to submit its report at the earliest, it did not specify any date.
The committee has been asked to probe the “causes for the security breach”; “who are responsible… and to what extent”; “what should be the remedial measures or safeguards necessary for the security of the Hon’ble Prime Minister or other protectees”; “suggestions or recommendations for improving the safety and security of other constitutional functionaries”; “any other incidental issue that the committee may deem fit and proper”.
Hearing a plea by Delhi-based Lawyers Voice, the court on January 7 had asked the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court, to “forthwith seize and secure the records” of the Prime Minister’s visit. Subsequently, the court was told that “the relevant records have been received, seized, secured” and “sealed and placed in the custody of the Punjab and Haryana High Court”.
On Wednesday, the court directed that these records should be handed over to the chairperson of the probe panel within three days. It also directed the Centre and Punjab government “to provide full assistance to the enquiry committee for completion of the assigned task”.
During the hearing on January 10, the Centre had urged the bench to allow its committee to continue with its probe and place a report before the court. But this was opposed by the Punjab government which said it had “no hope” in the Centre’s committee and urged the court to constitute an “independent committee”. The court had reserved its order, making it clear that it would appoint a panel headed by a former Supreme Court Judge to look into the matter.
sOn January 5, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy was stranded on a flyover for 15-20 minutes due to a blockade by protesters in Ferozepur.