Won’t allow another 1984 under our watch, file FIRs over hate speeches: Delhi HC

Pritam Pal Singh

Justice S Muralidhar (Left) and Justice Talwant Singh.

Coming down on hate speeches made by BJP leaders and expressing “anguish” over the communal violence in northeast Delhi that has left at least 27 people dead, the Delhi High Court Wednesday questioned the conduct of Delhi Police and directed it to register FIRs against those who made the speeches, saying “this city has seen enough violence” and “let it not repeat 1984” when anti-Sikh riots claimed over 2,700 lives in Delhi alone.

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At a hearing marked by testy exchanges after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said this was not the time to lodge FIRs over the speeches and that it would done at a more “appropriate” or “conducive” stage, the bench of Justices S Muralidhar and Talwant Singh directed Special Commissioner of Police Praveer Ranjan, who was present in the court room, to sit with the Delhi Police Commissioner and take a “conscious decision” on registration of FIRs against the BJP leaders who made the hate speeches and also others in the knowledge of the police.

Mehta had sought to adjourn proceedings until Thursday, saying “the nature of prayers in the petition was not urgent”. But the bench, hearing a petition by activists Harsh Mander and Farah Naqvi that sought registration of FIRs, went ahead and said it needed to be informed about the action taken by Thursday.

Incidentally, Justice Muralidhar was transferred out of Delhi High Court on Wednesday. The Ministry of Law & Justice, in a notification, said the President, after consultation with the Chief Justice of India, had transferred Justice Muralidhar to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

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The hearing Thursday will be before the bench headed by Chief Justice D N Patel who was not holding court Wednesday.

Justice Muralidhar, taking up another petition while on a different bench with Justice A J Bhambhani Wednesday, also passed a string of directions on safe passage for the bodies of the victims, their proper burial/cremation, adequate number of helplines and help desks, besides rehabilitation and trauma counselling of those affected.

In scenes rarely witnessed in open court, Justices Muralidhar and Singh ordered that video clips of four hate speeches be played in the court room after the Solicitor General and one of the police officers present there claimed they had not seen or heard all the speeches.

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The clips played were of a speech made by BJP leader Kapil Mishra in Maujpur, issuing an ultimatum to Delhi Police to clear the anti-CAA protesters; Union Minister Anurag Thakur’s election campaign speech where he chanted “Desh ke gaddaron ko” and had the crowd responding “goli maaro...”; BJP MP Parvesh Sahib Singh’s comment “these people will enter your homes and rape your sisters and daughters”; slogans such as “police ke hatyaaron ko, goli maaro...” raised by a crowd led by BJP MLA Abhay Verma in Laxmi Nagar.

“What is worrying us that the same slogans have been raised repeatedly and if an FIR is not registered, it would send a wrong message to society. You (SG Mehta) say that it is not an appropriate stage. As per you, when will it be that stage? After the city has burnt down? How many more lives have to be lost?... Why are you not showing alacrity when it comes to registration of FIR in these cases? We want peace to prevail. This city has seen enough violence. Let it not repeat 1984,” the bench said.

Earlier, Mehta said 11 FIRs had already been registered. When he said “the nature of prayers in the petition was not urgent and could be heard on Thursday”, the bench said: “A law officer has the highest trust of the judiciary. You have flagged the issue of urgency before us. Why, as a law officer, do you think prayer 1 (on registration of FIR) is not urgent?”.

Mehta said, “The prayer came after 20 days of the statement. Let us not make it unpleasant.” At this, Justice Muralidhar said “the situation out there is unpleasant”.

The court also witnessed a tussle between Mehta and Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra who said he had the mandate to represent the police in the High Court and he saw “no reason why an FIR in the matter should not be registered”.

Mehra, who was assisted by advocate Chaitanya Gosain, submitted “this cannot be the stand of the Delhi Police because it has to come through me. I have to go through the status report and satisfy my conscience”.

Justice Muralidhar said: “You acknowledge the occurrence of a crime by registering an FIR. If you don’t register an FIR, how will you take action? The more you delay, these speeches (will) lead to more speeches.”

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, pressed for directions from the court, including “strong words on how the police should act... you are a Constitutional court. Please don’t hold back even for a minute. As we speak, attacks are taking place”.

At one point during the hearing, Justice Muralidhar said it was the court’s Constitutional duty to protect the law. “This is not anger, this is anguish. A Constitutional court’s anguish is very serious and everyone should take it seriously,” he said.

At a separate hearing of a plea by documentary film maker Rahul Roy who sought safe passage for those injured and stuck at the Al Hind Hospital in northeast Delhi, the bench of Justices Muralidhar and Bhambhani said this is the time to build confidence and every affected person should be visited by the highest functionaries of the state like Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister.

It issued directions for the safe passage of the bodies of the victims, proper information to their relatives and friends to facilitate collection of bodies, and burial/cremation with utmost dignity and security minus any hindrance. The bench directed there should be adequate number of help desks and helplines, for which publicity should be given, so that the victims should reach it.

On those displaced by the riots, the bench said “if there are not enough shelters, the Delhi government, on war-footing, (must) ensure that adequate number of such shelters are set up to provide rehabilitation to such displaced victims”. The court appointed advocate Zubeda Begum as amicus curiae to coordinate between the victims and the different agencies.