The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Registrar General of Punjab and Haryana High Court to secure and preserve all records in connection with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Punjab, and also asked the state and Central committees to refrain from conducting inquiries till Monday, when it will take up the matter again.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said: “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 Prime Minister’s scheduled tour of Punjab on January 5, 2022”.
“We direct 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, National Investigation Agency, to assist the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court to forthwith secure and seize the records from the State police as well as Central agencies.”
The top court also asked the state and Central committees to refrain from conducting inquiries till Monday.
It also directed the Punjab government, including the 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.
During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted that some NIA officer should assist the court’s officer in collecting and securing the evidence, which includes wireless messages in connection with PM’s movement in the state. He claimed that the court officer may find it difficult to pin down on sources, from which information is required.
Mehta termed the incident “rarest of the rare issue” and also potential cross border terrorism.
Senior advocate Maninder Singh, representing the Delhi-based petitioner Lawyer’s Voice, emphasised on the importance of protection to the PM of the country and cited previous top court ruling that looked at the SPG Act.
Singh contended the incident happened in an election-bound state and it must be ensured that such incidents don’t happen again. He added that the Punjab government has no exclusive right to appoint a panel to inquire into this incident.
Referring to a former high court judge, who has been appointed as the chairman of the state probe panel, Singh cited a 2014 Supreme Court ruling recording adverse remarks against the judge in connection to an investigation in a recruitment scam. He urged the top court to restrain the state panel from proceeding in the matter and sought for a district judge to collect all evidence with assistance of NIA and sought an independent probe into the matter.
Mehta appeared before the top court in support of this petition.
The top court said: “We direct the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court to keep the records in his safe custody for the time being.”
The plea sought an independent probe into the PM’s security breach in Punjab. It sought a direction to the District Judge Bathinda to collect, preserve and present all material pertaining to the movement and deployment of Punjab Police in connection with the visit of the Prime Minister, and fix responsibility of the DGP and the Chief Secretary, Punjab.
Posting the matter for further hearing on January 10, the top court said: “The Registry is directed to forward a copy of this order electronically, forthwith, to the Registrar General, Punjab and Haryana High Court, the Director General of Police, Union Territory of Chandigarh, the Director General, National Investigation Agency and the Principal Secretary Home, State of Punjab.”
On January 6, the Ministry of Home Affairs constituted a three-member committee to enquire into the “serious lapses in the security arrangements” during the PM’s visit to Ferozepur, in poll-bound Punjab. The MHA said: “The committee will be led by Sudhir Kumar Saxena, Secretary (Security), Cabinet Secretariat, and comprising of Balbir Singh, Joint Director, IB, and S Suresh, IG, SPG.”