New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday directed the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s registrar general to preserve all official records and communication related to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Punjab, where due to an alleged security lapse, his motorcade was stuck on a flyover for 15-20 minutes.
Modi was on his way to address a rally in Ferozepur Wednesday, but returned when a group of farmers blocked the highway leading to his destination. Both the central government and the state have formed probe panels to inquire into what the Ministry of Home Affairs terms a “major security lapse”.
Acting on a petition filed by an organisation, Lawyers Voice, seeking an independent inquiry into the alleged security breach, a bench led by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana also directed the Punjab Police, the Special Protection Group (SPG), and agencies of both the central and Punjab governments to “provide necessary assistance to the HC registrar general, who will keep all the records in his safe custody”.
It then sought the central government and Punjab’s response to the petition for an independent panel to investigate the matter and fixed next Monday for a further hearing on it.
Further, the bench said the registrar general shall seek the assistance of the Director General of Police, Chandigarh, and National Investigation Agency (NIA) officers to secure the records.
Probe panels to ‘hold’ operations
Meanwhile, the bench told both the central government and Punjab to ask their probe panels not to function till the next date of hearing.
“We are not including this in our order, but ask both the committees to hold their operations till Monday,” the CJI told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Punjab Advocate General D.S. Patwalia. The bench chose not to mention this direction in its order in view of Mehta’s submission that the central probe panel was not meant to punish any officer from Punjab, but to ascertain why and how the lapse occurred.
Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Maninder Singh told the bench that under the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Act, 2019, the central government, state and other local bodies have to act in aid of the SPG, the unit tasked with PM’s security. In the said trip, he added, there was an “impermissible stoppage of the PM’s cavalcade, and this is the highest breach”.
“This cannot happen,” Singh told the bench. He also had reservations over the constitution of the committee by Punjab, which is headed by Justice Mehtab Singh Gill.
“The chairman of the state-appointed committee was part of a huge service-related scam. Police authority had also proved the conduct of this judge and the Supreme Court had earlier held that this judge had targeted a police officer who had probed his own case,” Singh said.
SG Mehta, too, attacked the Punjab government for the alleged breach and contended that it could be an “issue of cross-border terrorism”.
“Another organisation, Sikhs for Justice, had called for people to do XY thing and this can be an issue of cross-border terrorism. This matter can not be left to just anyone, and thus let it be with a district judge and with NIA officials,” Mehta submitted.
Issue of ‘grave concern’
The incident led to an international embarrassment, Mehta argued, and asked the court to call for details and keep them in a sealed cover.
For Punjab, too, the incident was an issue of “grave concern”, Patwalia told the bench. The state, he said, was not taking the lapse lightly and, hence, the committee was constituted on the same day the incident occurred.
Patwalia denied the inquiry panel was an afterthought. “Mr Modi is our prime minister and even though this petition reeks of politics, we are not against it,” the law officer told the bench.
On the objections to the state probe committee, the Punjab advocate general said : “If there are allegations against the judge we appointed, I cannot argue one way or another. The IG of SPG, who is a member of the Centre’s committee, was also responsible for this (security lapse) and cannot be a judge in their own case.”
At this, Mehta suggested the SPG IG (Inspector General) can be replaced with the Union home secretary, prompting the CJI to ask the solicitor general if he was also open to a court-appointed independent committee. Mehta sought time to get back on the matter by Monday.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)