New Delhi: A year after the northeast Delhi riots that caused widespread devastation and resulted in 53 deaths, the Delhi Police Special Cell has claimed to have now found “fresh evidence” in the case to establish that the riots were a “conspiracy” that was “pre-meditated” and “engineered” by a group of people, ThePrint has learnt.
According to police sources, the fresh evidence is CCTV footage dated 24 February 2020, between 12 noon and 1 pm, showing a group of people “incapacitating” the PWD installed CCTV cameras in Chand Bagh area. The riots started on 23 February and continued for three days till 25 February.
Police sources said the group of people, armed with lathis and sticks, moved from Chand Bagh, old and new Mustafabad areas towards Wazirabad, and on they way incapacitated CCTV cameras by either putting a cloth on them or rotating them to change their direction to avoid being captured in the video.
“CCTV footage was accessed from over 30 high-quality cameras from a stretch that is almost 3 kilometers and an analysis was carried out. We then mapped the cameras along with the movement of the crowd, which showed how the crowd kept making the cameras non-functional as they moved towards Wazirabad,” a police source said.
“It shows that the crowd very well knew where the cameras are placed and that they have to make them dysfunctional to avoid getting caught, which shows that it was not at the spur of the moment that the riots fueled. It was nothing less than a conspiracy,” the source added.
Asked why it took the police almost a year to analyse the CCTV footage from the cameras that were seized soon after the riots, the officer said that the investigation is proceeding “phase wise”.
“This is an investigation, which involves voluminous evidence and is being carried out phase-wise. Testimonials and forensic extraction from seized phones etc. was taken up on priority. Now this has come up,” a senior police officer said.
Mehmud Pracha, defense counsel of many accused in the riots, however, said the Delhi Police is in a habit of “misusing evidence”.
Second supplementary charge sheet to be filed
The special cell is now in the process of filing a second supplementary charge sheet in the case with details from this fresh evidence.
This case has been registered under sections of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, and Indian Penal Code sections of criminal conspiracy, murder, rioting, sedition, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity on the grounds of religion, language, caste, etc.
The police had filed its first charge sheet in September last year against 15 people, claiming that the main aim of the “key conspirators” was not to hold a chakka jam (road blockade) protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), but to “engineer a riot” and “ensure communal skirmish”.
Those named in the charge sheet are — Tahir Hussain, Mohd Parvez Ahmed, Mohd Illyas, Saifi Khalid, Ishrat Jahan, Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Shahdab Ahmed, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Tasleem Ahmed, Saleem Malik, Mohd Saleem Khan and Athar Khan — and have been accused of hatching a “larger conspiracy behind the February riots”.
In November, the police filed a 200-page supplementary charge sheet, naming Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and Faizan Khan in the case related to violence. In this charge sheet, the police accused Khalid of “remotely controlling” the riots.
The second supplementary charge sheet, police said, is only being filed to submit “additional evidence” to the case, and no link of the crowd dislocating or covering the cameras has till now been established with the people named in the previous two charge sheets.
Meanwhile, Pracha said they have in their applications mentioned that CCTVs in areas were removed by members of the “BJP and RSS deliberately to destroy evidence, but no action was taken in that regard”.
“The police just want to misuse this evidence against the minority community like they have done in other cases. For the last six months, we have been pointing out how cameras were removed by members of RSS and BJP and even the police to destroy evidence. Moreover, why did it take them one year to now come up with this fresh evidence,” he said.
ThePrint reached Trideep Pais, lawyer of Safoora Zargar, and Adit S. Pujari, lawyer of Pinjra Tod activists Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, through phone calls, but they all refused to comment on the matter.
‘Dislocated, disconnected, covered cameras one by one’
According to police sources, the security camera footage from 12 noon to 1 pm on 24 February — the day Delhi Police head constable Ratan Lal was murdered — showed that a group of people were moving towards Wazirabad from Chand Bagh area, and one by one dislocating, disconnecting or covering all cameras en route.
The investigators found this pattern after they plotted the cameras on a northeast Delhi ground map to see where they were placed. The footage from those cameras was then checked one by one.
“The pattern was like this — it shows that at around 12.20 pm at one spot, a person from the crowd moving with lathis, sticks, puts a cloth on the camera there, then just 100 meters ahead, another camera is covered just after five minutes i.e. at 12.25, then just 150 meters ahead, another camera is rotated to face towards the sky at around 12.35.”
“This goes on. Then finally at 12.51, the crowd converges and merges onto the Wazirabad road where a group of policemen were thrashed and head constable Ratan Lal was killed,” a second source said.
“As they kept walking towards Waziarabd, one by one they either kept turning the cameras away or covered them with a cloth just to avoid being identified,” the source added.
The police are now in the process of identifying the people in the crowd from the footage before the cameras were made non-functional.
“Although we cannot see the face of the person who covers the cameras, rotates or disconnects the camera, but we can definitely see the approaching crowd and people in it before the cameras are incapacitated. We have shared the footage with the district police and are now trying to identify those people,” the source said.
The police also said that arrests are likely to take place in the coming days.