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4 commissions, 9 committees & 2 SITs – the long road to justice for 1984 Sikh killings

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The case in which 2 men have been convicted had been closed by the police, and was only reopened by a central govt SIT set up in 2015.

New Delhi: Thirty-four years after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, two men — Naresh Sherawat and Yashpal Singh — were convicted of murder by a Delhi sessions court Wednesday.

In fact, the judgment came in a case that was reopened by a Special Investigation Team, which was set up 31 years after the massacre.

In these 34 years, four commissions, nine committees and two SITs have been set up to investigate the alleged pogrom. Many of the reports have found damning evidence against police officers and senior leaders of the Congress party like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, cases against whom are still in the courts.

The carnage, according to official records, claimed 2,733 lives in Delhi alone, though human rights organisations place the number nearer to 4,000.

Of the 587 original FIRs registered as per the Nanavati Commission, only 25 of the cases have so far resulted in conviction, of which only 12 are murder cases. A total of 440 convictions have been made till date, with some people being convicted on as many as seven charges.

At this moment, one SIT, set up in January 2018 under the Supreme Court’s watchful eye, is re-investigating 186 closed cases.

Here’s a look back at the long and winding roads the victims of the riots have had to travel for justice:

Marwah Commission, 1984

Set up in November 1984 under then-additional commissioner of police Ved Marwah, the commission was directed to investigate the role of the police in the riots.

Towards mid-1985, as the commission was about to wrap up its investigation, it was directed by the central government (led by Rajiv Gandhi) to stop the inquiry. Instead, the Misra Commission was asked to take over.

Misra Commission, 1985

Under the stewardship of Justice Ranganath Misra, a sitting judge of the Supreme Court who later went on to be Chief Justice of India, a new commission was formed May 1985. The complete records of the Marwah Commission were transferred, but not Marwah’s handwritten notes.

The new commission submitted its report the next year, and this was eventually made public in February 1987. The Misra Commission recommended that three more committees be set up — to look into the role of the police, registration of cases, and to determine the total number of killings.

The commission stated that its only term of reference was to determine “whether the violence had happened”, and not “identify any person” or their role.

However, it also noted in its report that a large number of cases, especially against politicians or police officers, had not been registered. The report even highlighted the fact that there had been a delay in the response by the army when it came to stopping the riots.

At the same time, the report gave a clean chit to Rajiv Gandhi and senior Congress leader H.K.L. Bhagat, and did not find any particular reason for police inaction.

Also read: Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 were three days of furlough given to criminals by police, Congress

Dhillon Committee, 1985

Under the leadership of veteran Congress leader Gurdial Singh Dhillon, the committee was instituted to look into the rehabilitation of the victims and their families in the aftermath of 1984. A compensation of barely Rs 10,000 was mandated for the families of those who had lost their lives in the riots.

A critical recommendation this committee made was that insurance money be paid to those whose property had been damaged. Companies had denied the claim on the technical grounds that “riots” were not covered by the scheme.

However, the government rejected the recommendation, and no insurance company compensated the victims.

Kapur-Mittal Committee, 1987

As recommended by the Misra Commission, a committee comprising Justice Dalip Kapur and retired bureaucrat Kusum Lata Mittal began their investigation into the role of the police. They finally submitted different reports in 1990 due to a difference of opinion. Mittal was of the opinion that only available records should be examined, while Kapur wanted to factor in oral testimonies and off-the-record accounts as well.

Justice Kapur identified 72 police officers for gross negligence and connivance, recommending the dismissal of 30.

However, the home ministry accepted Mittal’s report, and not one officer was dismissed.

Jain-Banerjee Committee, 1987

Consisting of Justice M.L. Jain, former judge of the Delhi High Court, and retired inspector-general of police A.K. Banerjee, this committee was set up in 1987 to look into the registration of cases.

The committee recommended registration of cases against Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Brahmanand Gupta in August 1987. No case was registered; instead, Gupta filed a writ petition in the Delhi HC and obtained a stay on the committee’s report.

The Citizens’ Justice Committee, an organisation working for the victims of the 1984 riots, filed an application to vacate the stay.

In August 1989, the Delhi High Court quashing the very appointment of the committee, on the grounds of a conflict between the Delhi Police Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Ahuja Committee, 1987

The third committee recommended by the Misra Commission, it was mandated to assess how many people had been killed in Delhi. It submitted its report August 1987, pegging the number at 2,733 in Delhi alone, and 3,325 across the country.

Poti-Rosha Committee, 1990

On the lines of the Jain-Banerjee Committee, this committee was formed with the same mandate in March 1990, consisting of retired Gujarat High Court chief justice P. Subramanian Poti, and retired IPS officer P.A. Rosha.

The committee functioned for a short period before its term expired in September 1990.

Jain-Aggarwal Committee, 1990

Retired Delhi High Court Justice J.D. Jain and retired UP DGP D.K. Aggarwal took over the mantle from the Poti-Rosha committee in December 1990.

The committee re-examined the 669 affidavits filed during Justice Misra’s time, added 415 new affidavits, and reviewed 403 FIRs recorded by the Delhi Police.

In its 1993 report, the committee recommended the registration of cases against Congress leaders Bhagat, Dharamdas Shastri, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. It also concluded that police investigations had been “cursory”. But no cases were filed, despite the fact that the committee even considered appointing special prosecutors to examine the cases.

Narula Committee, 1993

The Delhi government, led by BJP chief minister Madan Lal Khurana, set up a committee under R.S. Narula, retired chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in December 1993.

In its January 1994 report, the committee recommended registration of cases against Bhagat, Kumar and Tytler.

Nanavati Commission, 2000

After things had remained at a standstill for over 15 years, a unanimous resolution was passed in the Rajya Sabha, resulting in the formation of a new commission under retired Supreme Court judge G.T. Nanavati.

The commission issued notices to Bhagat, Kumar, Shastri and Tytler, and also added a new name to the list, former union minister and Congress leader Kamal Nath. It submitted its report in May 2005.

“The systematic manner in which the Sikhs were thus killed indicate(s) that the attacks on them were organised,” read the report.

“Large number of affidavits indicate that local Congress(I) leaders and workers had either incited or helped the mobs in attacking the Sikhs… There is enough material on record to show that at many places the police had taken away their arms or other articles with which they could have defended themselves against the attacks by mobs.”

The commission dismissed allegations of complicity against Rajiv Gandhi, stating the allegations could never be confirmed. It recommended the establishment of an anti-riot police force, free from political influence, to ensure that such an event does not recur.

It recommended the reopening of only four cases closed by the police.

Mathur Committee

The Mathur Committee was set up in December 2014, spearheaded by retired Supreme Court judge G.P. Mathur, after home minister Rajnath Singh announced Rs 5 lakh compensation for the victims of the massacre.

The committee noted that “a proper investigation of the offences committed was not conducted”, and that “some kind of sham effort had been made to give it the shape of investigations”.

The committee recommended the setting up of an SIT to examine whether other cases that had been closed by the police needed to be reopened. The team comprised of senior IPS officer Pramod Asthana, retired district and sessions court judge Rakesh Kapoor, and then-additional deputy commissioner of the Delhi Police, Kumar Gyanesh.

Central government SIT, 2015

The central government in February 2015 implemented the recommendation of the Mathur Committee and reopened a number of cases.

This is the team that led to the conviction of Naresh Sherawat and Yashpal Singh Wednesday. It was alleged that the two had acted in collusion with then-councilor Jaipal Singh, but since the latter had been let off earlier, he wasn’t examined again.

On 6 December 2017, the SIT closed 186 cases without an investigation. The apex court then decided to set up its own SIT in a hearing on 10 January 2018.

Also read: Congress was involved in 1984 anti-Sikh riots – I saw & reported it

Supreme Court SIT, 2018

On January 10, a bench led by then-Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra ordered the setting up of an SIT under the Supreme Court to investigate 186 cases that had been closed by the central government’s SIT.

The order noted the nature of the cases and recommended “a fresh SIT be constituted for carrying on further investigation”.

Former Delhi High Court judge S.N. Dhingra was appointed chairman of the three-member SIT, along with Abhishek Dular, a 2006 IPS batch officer, and Rajdeep Singh, a retired IPS officer. The committee was asked to submit a report within two months, but still hasn’t.

Police intimidation and negligence

One of the main agitators for justice of the victims is lawyer and former AAP politician H.S. Phoolka. He believes that a lack of political will has led to the situation where the findings of committees have never been properly enforced.

Phoolka blamed a vicious cycle of police intimidation in the present, and police negligence in the past, for haunting practically every investigation into the massacre.

Moreover, political heavyweights remain outside the ambit of prosecution despite damning evidence, due to their continuing influence. “When the CBI reached to arrest Sajjan Kumar in the late 1990s, a mob gathered around him and prevented it. The BJP was in power at that time,” Phoolka recalled.

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