A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli posted the PIL filed by advocates’ body Lawyers Voice for further hearing on Monday, when it is likely to decide the nature of inquiry to be instituted and the composition of the panel to undertake the task.
Accepting arguments of petitioners’ counsel and senior advocate Maninder Singh, who pointed out the political slugfest and blame game over the security lapse and requested for immediate judicial safe-keep of the relevant records and communications relating to the incident, the bench said, “Taking into consideration the arguments advanced by the parties with respect to the issues relating to the security of the PM and other related issues raised by them, we deem it appropriate for the time being to direct the registrar general, Punjab and Haryana high court, to secure and preserve the records relating to the PM’s tour of Punjab on January 5.”
The bench directed the Chandigarh DGP and an officer of the National Investigation Agency not below the rank of inspector general to be nominated by the chief of the anti-terror agency to assist the registrar general to “forthwith secure and seize the records from the state police as well as central agencies”.
Significantly, the court asked for the enlistment of the NIA after solicitor general Tushar Mehta raised the issue of possible implications of the inexplicable lapse for national security.
Mehta said an unforeseen unfortunate fallout of the serious security lapse was providentially averted as the PM’s motorcade got stuck on the flyover because of the road blockade in connivance of Punjab Police and traffic from the reverse side was allowed to approach the PM’s vehicle.
He drew the court’s attention to the statement given by the head of banned terror organisation Sikhs For Justice ahead of the PM’s Punjab visit and requested the court to treat it as a case of possible cross-border terrorism.
Mehta said while the registrar general could be assigned the task of safe-keep of the official records of the Punjab government relating to the PM’s visit, he needed to be assisted by the NIA for identifying the various sources in the Punjab government and police for collecting the official records as each and every relevant official was informed about the route to be taken by the PM’s motorcade. “The incident had grave national security implications and a potential international embarrassment for India. A signal must go from the Supreme Court that such lapses cannot be condoned and accountability as well as responsibility would be fixed,” he said.
Punjab advocate general D S Patwalia said the Charanjit Singh Channi-led Congress government too feels that it is a serious security lapse and that whosoever responsible for this should be identified and punished. He said the state was open to any independent investigation into the entire incident.
The CJI-led bench ordered the Punjab government, including its police, the Special Protection Group (SPG) and other relevant central and state agencies to cooperate and provide the necessary assistance in securing and seizing of the relevant records. It directed the registrar general “to keep the records in his safe custody for the time being”.
Maninder Singh drew the court’s attention to Section 14 of the SPG Act and said that all governments and their agencies are mandated to provide all assistance to the SPG in securing the life of the protectees and cited the SC’s judgment upholding inviolability of the provisions of the SPG Act when it ordered a special court to be located in high-security Vigyan Bhavan for the trial of SPG protectee and former PM P V Narasimha Rao in the Lakhubhai Pathak cheating case, in which self-proclaimed godman Chandraswami was the main accused.
He also targeted the Justice Mehtab Singh Gill Committee appointed by the Channi government to probe the incident. Singh said Justice Gill was severely strictured by the SC in 2011 for attempting to target police in probing the recruitment scam in Punjab. He said the other member of the committee is the principal home secretary, who himself is in the dock for the lapses.
The SG supported Singh and said the Punjab government should not have constituted the committee when it is an issue having implications on national security. Patwalia said that even the central inquiry committee had the SPG inspector general as a member who would also be in the dock for the lapse. “Let there be an independent and impartial probe into the incident. The Punjab government has nothing to hide and is not attempting to brush the serious issue under the carpet. We want the incident to be thoroughly investigated,” the Punjab AG said.