New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday directed the registrar general of the Punjab and Haryana high court to forthwith collect, preserve and keep in safe custody all the records relating to security arrangements made during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab in which his motorcade was stranded at a flyover in Bathinda for 15-20 minutes.
The court said that the registrar general will take the assistance of the director-general, Chandigarh police, and a senior ranking officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in collecting the records, including wireless messages.
Ordering the collection and preserving of records, Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, heading a bench also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, said that the two committees constituted by the Centre and the Punjab government will not proceed with their respective inquires till January 10 when the court will hold further hearing in the matter.
Directing the registrar general of the Punjab and Haryana high court to “secure and preserve the records relating to the Prime Minister’s scheduled tour of Punjab on January 5”, the top court in its order further directed the “director general of police, Union territory of Chandigarh, and an officer of the National Investigation Agency, not below the rank of inspector general, to be nominated by the director-general, NIA, to assist the registrar general, to forthwith secure and seize the records from the state police as well as the Central agencies.”
The court further directed the Punjab government, including police authorities, the Special Protection Group and any other Central/state agencies, to cooperate and to provide necessary assistance in securing and seizing the records.
The Centre had on Thursday constituted a three-member committee headed by Sudhir Kumar Saxena, secretary (security), Cabinet Secretariat, to inquire into the security lapse. The other members of the committee are Balbir Singh, joint director, Intelligence Bureau, and S. Suresh, IG, SPG. The Punjab government, too, had set up a committee headed by former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana high court Justice Mehtab Singh Gill to inquire into the security lapse.
The proceedings of both the committees were put on hold till January 10 on a plea by Punjab advocate general D.S. Patwalia who said that the Centre’s committee has called Punjab DGP to appear before it on Friday at 4 pm and he has been given a questionnaire to reply. He said that the DGP can’t reply to the questionnaire on facts without records, which now will be in the custody of the high court’s registrar general.
Responding to senior lawyer Maninder Singh, appearing for the petitioner — Lawyers Voice — raising questions about Justice Gill referring to some past allegations, Mr Patwalia said, “If they have reservation about our committee, we too have reservation about their committee.” He referred to the presence of S. Suresh, IG, SPG, in the Centre’s committee.
He said that Mr Suresh can’t be a judge in his own cause. Apprehending that the Central committee may put the entire onus on the Punjab government, Mr Patwalia, batting for a “totally impartial” committee to investigate the incident, said, “If there has to be an investigation, it has to be done and seen to be done.”
Describing the matter as a “grave issue which can’t be thrown under the carpet”, Mr Patwalia said that if some officer has to face flak for the lapse, he must face the flak.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, agreed with Mr Patwalia, saying that Mr Suresh can be replaced with the Union home secretary.
When CJI Ramana asked the solicitor general if he wanted an independent committee to be constitute, the latter said, “Let everything be before you by tomorrow with records collected and we will place our individual concerns by tomorrow and you can look into it on Monday.”
Describing the incident as a “rarest of rare issue” having the “potential of causing international embarrassment”, solicitor general Mehta told the court that it was the director-general of Punjab police who was consulted first on the Prime Minister going to Ferozepur by road and he “gave the green signal”.
Pointing to a statement by London-based organisation “Sikh for Justice” asking people to block the Prime Minister’s route, the solicitor general said that there could be an issue of cross-border terrorism....